Rivers and creeks running over onto state highways were obvious to travelers in Grant County on April 8-10, but the real damage was taking place sight-unseen beneath the surface.

Oregon Department of Transportation crews will be busy inspecting and repairing stream banks, bridge abutments and highway shoulders scoured or undercut by fast-moving streams during the recent flood, Assistant District Manager Jeff Berry told the Eagle.

Crews were aware of shoulder rock missing along Highway 26 in Picture Gorge, which remained closed until Thursday afternoon. The highway reopened to one lane with a pilot car and then later to two-lane travel.

ODOT was concerned water from the John Day River got through the rip-rap and ate away the road base beneath the pavement, leaving void spaces, Berry said. ODOT crews needed to wait until the river receded before it would know for sure about road conditions, Berry said.

Grant County was prepared to assist ODOT crews with the road department’s belly dumper for repair work in Picture Gorge, Commissioner Jim Hamsher said.

Highways 402 and 19 definitely experienced shoulder damage where river water ran over the roadway and erosion created abrupt edges, Berry said. Scouring of the abutments at the Highway 26 bridge over Beech Creek in Mt. Vernon did not pose an emergency situation, but it is a problem ODOT crews will need to address this year, he said.

Extensive channel work last year in Canyon Creek along Highway 395 south of Canyon City held up well, Berry said, as did new culverts installed at Vance Creek and Sheep Gulch in 2015. The creek, however, ate away the road embankment near milepost 3.7, which will need repair work this year, he said.

City reports

Most cities in Grant County reported no flood damage to city property. In Dayville, the South Fork of the John Day River inundated the playground area at the city park but not the tennis courts, City Recorder Ruthie Moore said.

Dayville high school students were allowed to leave the morning of April 9 to help sandbagging efforts at ranches that saw extensive flooding where the John Day River overran its banks upstream from Picture Gorge.

City Recorder Tami Kowing said extensive sandbagging took place in Mt. Vernon, thanks to fire department personnel and volunteers, but other than some water reported in basements and crawlspaces at private residences, no significant damage was reported.

Although Highway 402 was closed west of Monument, no significant damage was reported in town, City Recorder Dorothy Jordan said. Officials had warned that the North Fork of the John Day River might crest at 17 feet, about 3 feet over flood stage, but the river only reached 15.1 feet, she said.

Jordan applauded the efforts of the volunteer fire department, sheriff’s office and county search and rescue personnel who delivered sandbags to Monument. The sandbags weren’t needed, but they’re in place now, she said. Monument School closed April 9-10 as some students couldn’t get through the highway closures, she said.

Hamsher, speaking as the Prairie City mayor, said logs that hung up on the downstream side of the Bridge Street bridge over the John Day River were the only concern for the city following the flood. Municipal water and sewer pipes attached to the bridge could be damaged by the logs, he said.

In Seneca, City Manager Raamin Burrell said county personnel delivered sandbags, but they weren’t needed and no damage to city or private property had been reported.

Long Creek was safe from flood damage, but private roads in the Pass Creek area north of town reportedly were eroded by enlarged streams.

The Bureau of Land Management reported flooding at campgrounds and access sites in the John Day River basin. The Monument site was completely flooded, and the toilet could be compromised. The Big Bend site east of Kimberly could not be accessed for an inspection but was expected to have flooded.

According to a press release from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, flooding is the most common natural disaster, and more than 20 percent of flood claims come from homes outside high-risk flood zones.

Typical homeowners insurance policies do not cover flood damage, the press release said, but it could cover damage to a car, and some policies for manufactured homes cover flood damage. Flood insurance can be purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program and a few private insurers, but there is a 30-day wait.

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

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