Ground zero for flooding concerns in Grant County April 8-9 was Canyon City and Grant Union Junior-Senior High School.

Canyon Creek, confined within a man-made channel left by gold miners and fed with runoff from lands burned during the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex fire, roared like a fire hose through Canyon City and right along the boundary of the school complex.

The flow was so intense that the gauge at Adam Road was removed to prevent it from being damaged, Grant County Emergency Management Coordinator Ted Williams told the Eagle. The Canyon Creek channel is expected to safely handle 850 cubic feet per second, but a manual measurement upstream from Adam Road determined the flow at 1,150 cubic feet per second, Williams said.

Bridges and schools

The creek came within 6 inches of the top of the dike at Inland Street, just upstream from the high school track and football field, County Commissioner Jim Hamsher said. Steps taken in advance at the Inland Street bridge worked out very well, he said. Following flooding in 2011 at that same location, a dike was constructed and concrete barriers were set in place near the bridge.

It was unfortunate that the pedestrian bridge had to be removed after it collapsed and blocked stream flow, Hamsher said. The Inland Street bridge has been an ongoing issue, and the entire bridge needs to be replaced with more clearance for flood-stage stream flow, he said.

Humbolt Elementary School remained closed after Grant Union and Seneca schools reopened because of bridge closures in Canyon City affecting school bus travel.

The safety of the Portal, Nugget and Inland street bridges was in question until an engineering assessment can be conducted once creek levels fall, Hamsher said.

Humbolt reopened April 15, with buses traveling to the school over the Main Street bridge and leaving on the Adam Road bridge. Main Street is considered too narrow for buses to pass each other.

Grant School District 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor said high groundwater filled utility tunnels beneath the high school and saturated insulation covering heating pipes.

“The insulation will need to be replaced when our flooding stops,” he told the Eagle on April 11. “The tunnels still have water running through them, and we are pumping out as much as possible.”

Uptmor said the old boiler room had 2-3 feet of water in it April 10, and three pumps were working hard to remove the water. Boiler equipment was being inspected, and the boiler had been test-fired, he said.

“It is operational and we will be continuing a process of inspection prior to full operation,” Uptmor said.

Emergency declarations

A Grant County emergency declaration was made April 8 with the support of the mayors or administrators of the county’s seven cities. Hamsher said the county received calls from state Rep. Lynn Findley and the offices of Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden offering support.

Hamsher praised the work of the Grant County Search and Rescue team, which put in long hours sandbagging and helping with evacuations. He also cited the special expertise of SAR Coordinator Dave Dobler and Grant County Emergency Management Coordinator Ted Williams.

Hamsher said about 75 volunteers including Forest Service personnel showed up to assist with sandbagging. Jail inmates and offenders on probation or parole worked at the Grant County Road Department filling bags with sand. He noted that it was too bad that it took a natural disaster to bring people together and put their differences aside.

Commissioner Sam Palmer said he spent much of April 8-9 patrolling the county with Undersheriff Zach Mobley or attending meetings. He said he believed the contingency structure for emergencies worked well.

The John Day City Council declared an emergency during its April 9 meeting. Mayor Ron Lundbom was not authorized to issue the declaration on his own, and the council agreed to bring back a code amendment to change that process. The emergency declarations will allow the county and the city to collect federal or state funding that could help pay costs related to flooding.

Flooding in Canyon City made its way into the John Day sewer collection system. As a result, about 1.5 million gallons reached the treatment plant, setting a record for a 24-hour period, public works director Monte Legg said. The average is about 230,000 gallons per day.

A sewer pipe suspended over Canyon Creek that served three residences was taken out by debris caught in the fast-flowing creek. The residents were gone at the time, and there was no danger from contamination, City Manager Nick Green said.

The city council applauded the great community effort in response, from citizen volunteers to John Day and Canyon City staff and fire department personnel. Five private pickup trucks showed up at the right time to deliver sandbags, the council noted.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at or 541-575-0710.

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