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Communities assess damages, state denies emergency declaration

Hundreds of volunteers came out to help in Pendleton as McKay Creek swept through neighborhoods over the weekend. (MYCB photo by Lowell Britt)

PENDLETON, Oregon – Both the Pendleton City Council and the Umatilla City Council will consider declaring a state of emergency because of the weekend flood. The Pendleton council has added it to the agenda for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. The Umatilla council is holding an emergency meeting at around 8 p.m. to take up the issue after its budget committee work session. Meanwhile a community meeting about the McKay Creek flood is scheduled for tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Sherwood Heights Elementary School.

State Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) Monday carried a request to declare Umatilla and Wallowa counties as states of emergency because of the flooding. Hansell tells KUMA News that request was later denied. The state has benchmarks that have to be met and officials tell us that once the extent of damage is more fully assessed, the state of emergency declaration from the state of Oregon could be approved.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said it was a rough weekend in Montee Addition, but the flooding gave him a look at the good side of humanity, as people came from near and far to help people they didn’t even know.

“There’s this significant event that’s occurring that nobody down there can do anything about in terms of making it go away,” Roberts said. “I’m not going to say they embraced it. They beat it back with sandbags.”

Roberts said that while the bureaucracy that surrounded the flooding was not ideal, the people who took action without filling out forms and holding meetings was humanity at its best.

“You could take everything that’s been done at the county level, everything that’s been done at the city level and brush that aside,” he said. “Look at what this community has done in response to this incident. Take tremendous pride in knowing that human compassion prevailed.”

National Weather Service Hydrologist Marilyn Lohmann, said the high release of water from the McKay Reservoir was the result of unanticipated high temperatures melting the snowpack, combined with an abnormal amount of rainfall south and southeast of Pilot Rock.

“They’ve already had 6.91 inches of rainfall,” she said Monday. “That’s over 5.25 inches above normal.”

Lohmann said that even if there isn’t a drop of rain or a flake of snow for the rest of the month, the community of Meacham has set a record for precipitation.

Crews have been working round-the-clock at the Pendleton Wastewater Treatment Plant, where a private bridge is compromised due to the high water. Officials worry that if that bridge failed totally, the plant could be inundated with flood water. A diversion trench has been dug around that bridge. Supervisor Mark Milne says that inside the fence, things are going much better than expected.

“So far, everything’s looking really good,” he said. “We’re meeting our disinfection requirements and that’s pretty amazing seeing roughly four times the flow we normally see. We’re optimistic and prepared. I’m actually very pleased with our crew. We’ve got a 24-hour watch going on at the plant to make sure things are working and things stay functioning.”

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