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Snowstorm paralyzes Columbia County

Scappoose students get 5-day weekend due to snow days


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - A traffic crash involving three cars one mile south of Cornelius Pass Road on Highway 30 caused a bottleneck for morning commuters Friday, Dec. 6.Winter weather that impacted Oregon and Washington over the weekend took its toll on Columbia County communities and associated areas on the morning of Friday, Dec. 6, and into the following week.

The first snow of the season clung to roadways after several days of freezing and near-freezing temperatures, creating slick conditions that left cars in ditches along Highway 30 and led to several traffic wrecks, including one fatal crash in the Clatskanie area Friday afternoon.

Lonny Welter of the Columbia County Road Department said Friday morning that the county’s limited crews and equipment were focusing on clearing roads at higher elevations. He said snow in the Scappoose and St. Helens areas was falling harder in the south.

“It seems like the farther south in that district we go, or the higher we go, is where we start encountering the snow,” Welter said. He added, “We only have about five or six guys, and so they’re going to be concentrating on the higher elevations, where the steeper roads are.”

The snow stopped before noon, leaving a total of 3 to 4 inches of snow at Scappoose Industrial Airpark, according to airport manager Craig Allison. Welter said accumulation tapered off significantly north of Scappoose, with only about half an inch on the ground in St. Helens and less than that further north.

After a flurry of announcements from the county’s school districts that they would have a late start or place buses on snow routes, administrators gave students and staff a snow day in all four county school districts.

Janine Salisbury, business manager for the St. Helens School District, said a maintenance worker found central heating in one of the buildings at the high school was not working properly at about 5 a.m. Friday morning, which prompted the district to order that school start two hours late.

Three hours later, Salisbury said, Durham School Services — the bus company with which the district contracts — called to advise the district that road conditions were too hazardous for them to send school buses out.

“The roads will look fine in town, but out in the further reaches, where the buses have to go, you can’t do it,” Salisbury said, noting that bus routes for the district stretch up into the hills west of Highway 30, picking up students in the Yankton area and other rural outskirts.

The St. Helens School District reopened Monday, as did the Rainier School District. But on Tuesday, after a small amount of precipitation overnight and with temperatures in the low to mid-30-degree range rendering road surfaces slick, all four Columbia County school districts stayed closed, and all but the Scappoose School District were closed amid freezing fog Wednesday.

The Columbia County government typically remains closed Fridays due to budget constraints. However, Emergency Management division head Renate Garrison said in an email Friday morning that her staff was “actively monitoring the situation.”

“We are in contact with county response partners and are updating neighboring counties with our status,” Garrison wrote.

Garrison also said road crews sanded county roads to mitigate icing.

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson described road conditions as “slippery” in an email Friday morning. He said the Sheriff’s Office received reports of “typical fender benders and people going off the road.”

“The worst spots appear to be in Scappoose and North County,” Dickerson wrote. “The St. Helens area is slippery, too, but not as much accumulation from what I have seen.”

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose was officially closed as of about 12:15 p.m. Friday, according to the Columbia County Roads Department. The Department said the road reopened at around 2:30 p.m. that day. Roberto Ceja, of St. Helens, stuck his truck in a ditch while attempting to turn around at the intersection of Old Portland Road and Dutch Canyon Road and had to be pulled out.Crashes were reported along Highway 30 on Friday, including one near the intersection with Northwest Cornelius Pass Road that shut down two westbound lanes of traffic beginning at about 8:50 a.m., according to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s online TripCheck feature.

“We would advise people to avoid the area, but that’s almost a silly statement given that that’s the way in,” said Dave Thompson, an ODOT official, on Friday morning. “So we just ask people’s patience.”

WreckshCrashes on Highway 30 can cause bottlenecking on the main route in and out of Columbia County, as it is the only direct road connection between south county communities and Portland.

Another, two-car accident described by Scappoose Police Sgt. Dennis Viereck as a “fender-bender” happened at the intersection of Havlik Drive and Highway 30 in Scappoose Friday afternoon.

Further north and west along the road, a crash temporarily shut down Highway 30 about 11 miles west of Clatskanie just before 10 a.m. About two and a half hours later, a second, fatal crash occurred just a few miles away.

According to the Oregon State Police, David Glatfelter, 39, of Portland lost control of his pickup truck and drove off the road while traveling eastbound on Highway 30, about 4 miles west of Clatskanie, at 12:12 p.m. Friday. His truck rolled over and came to rest in a waterway. Although Glatfelter was pulled from the vehicle by bystanders and administered to by first responders, he was declared dead at the scene.

Police said speed was believed to be a contributing factor in the crash, while noting that the road was snowy and icy at the time.

On Friday in Scappoose, Dutch Canyon Road closed for more than two hours Friday afternoon, from 12:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dave Hill, public works director with the Columbia County Road Department, said several cars were “ditched” along Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose Friday morning, causing severe congestion.

“That seems to be where most of the snow has accumulated,” Hill said. “We have our people out there and will sending more traffic control until we can put more sand and gravel on the road.”

To the south, Cornelius Pass remained open throughout the snowy morning, according to Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen.

“We had periodic delays due to the semi-trucks having to stop to put chains on,” Pullen said. “When a big truck does stop on that road, everything behind it comes to a halt.”

A wreck did occur on Cornelius Pass Road on Friday, with a car driving off the road and crashing partway down the slope near the intersection with Northwest Skyline Boulevard. Pullen said the crash did not affect traffic.

Friday’s snow came as a surprise to meteorologists who predicted that the system would largely bypass the Portland metropolitan area.

Mark Nelsen, chief meteorologist at the Fox 12 news station in Portland, wrote on the Fox 12 Weather Blog at 6:45 a.m. Friday, “It appears all of our models may have been wrong since the main snow band seems to be setting up a good 50 miles farther north than we expected.”

Nelsen concluded, “After the disastrous December 2009 evening commute when we said it would do very little, I promised myself I wouldn’t hesitate next time it appeared we were way off. I think this may [be] that time.”