Storm spawns smelly mess

·5 min read

Sep. 13—By JAYSON JACOBY

jjacoby@bakercityherald.com

The downpour lasted for less than half an hour but the muddy mess still lingered more than two days later at Kim Nelson's house in east Baker City.

So did the stench.

And the flies.

"It's disgusting," Nelson said on Monday morning, Sept. 13.

A brief but potent deluge in Baker City on Friday evening, Sept. 10 turned streets into streams, created temporary lakes at several intersections and washed a sticky mixture of debris, including livestock manure, down a hillside and into an eastside neighborhood.

Nelson, who lives at 730 Valley Ave., between Plum and Birch streets near the base of Spring Garden Hill, said the smelly stuff washed into her yard and garage.

"We could see it coming down the road," said Nelson, who has lived there for nine years.

She said her son tried to clear catch basins to allow the mucky water to drain, but the volume was too great and the basins too thoroughly clogged.

She said water reached to the door handles of a Camaro that was parked at the curb at her home.

On Monday morning, Nelson said the manure aroma was so intense that she kept her doors and windows closed.

There was also an influx of flies, she said.

Nelson said she is angry because most of the mess flowed into her neighborhood from Thomas and Sharon Oliver's property on the nearby hill, which includes a pasture for cattle that is bare of vegetation.

"There's a lot of people over here that are really frustrated," Nelson said. "We need to do something. We shouldn't have to deal with this, living in town."

Michelle Owen, the city's public works director, said this isn't the first time heavy rain has resulted in mud and manure streaming down the hill from the Olivers' property and into the neighborhood below.

Owen said city officials have talked with Thomas Oliver, but the conditions that create the problem persist, including a hillside largely devoid of vegetation that could catch some of the debris and lacking terracing that could interrupt the debris flow.

Several years ago the city built a catch basin at the base of the hill, including a 2,300-gallon vault intended to intercept and collect debris flowing off the hill, said Tom Fisk, the city's operations supervisor.

But Friday's downpour overwhelmed the basin, he said, in part because the mud and manure clogged it.

Although the Baker City Airport, about three miles northeast of town, recorded 0.24 of an inch of rain Friday, Fisk said he talked with a couple of people who live in town and have rain gauges. One reported about two-thirds of an inch of rain, the other 1 1/4 inches.

"That's a lot of rain in a hurry," Fisk said.

Owen said that although the city's current development codes require that property owners keep stormwater from flowing off their properties, she's not sure what requirements, if any, were in place when the Olivers' property was developed.

"We're looking at what options we may have," Owen said.

She said she's willing to talk with the Olivers about a "partnership" that could include seeding grass or other vegetation, or possibly terracing parts of the property to make debris flows less likely.

"It would be nice if we had some cooperation with the property owner," Owen said. "This is costing us time and money."

Sharon Oliver said on Monday morning that the storm was "terrible."

"Most of it washed down to the other neighbors," Oliver said. "It's sad but you can't do nothing about it."

She said they cleaned the catch basin at the base of the hill but it wasn't able to capture all the debris.

"It's a mess," Oliver said. "It was pretty bad up here. I opened the door there and man, the wind was just so strong, it just blew right in just about and rain at the same time. It was pretty bad, really."

Owen said the city had to pay overtime to workers Friday and over the weekend to scrape debris from streets.

Fisk said the city dispatched a pair of two-person crews Friday evening to clear debris from catch basins and help the water drain more quickly.

He said crews closed Birch Street between Court and Washington avenues due to thick mud on the street. Fisk said some drivers were going through the mud and splashing residents' yards.

On Saturday, workers used backhoes to push debris into piles so it could be hauled away. Fisk said the city hauled at least 60 cubic yards of material. The city will need to periodically sweep the streets throughout this fall to try to remove as much debris as possible, he said.

Flooded intersections

Although the storm's biggest and messiest effects were on the east side, the heavy rain also overwhelmed storm drains in several other spots in town, including the intersections of Fourth and Broadway streets, and Main and Campbell streets.

Both intersections are prone to flooding after downpours, Fisk said.

He said city crews will be working this week to clear many clogged catch basins.

Owen said the situation would have been worse had the storm happened later in the year, when leaves are falling from trees.

Outside the city

Baker County Roadmaster Noodle Perkins said Monday morning that he hadn't received any reports of county roads sustaining significant damage.

County crews did remove some fallen treees in the Sumpter Valley area, he said.

Samantha O'Conner of the Baker City Herald contributed to this story.

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