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Thousands of tires are among the debris that's been removed during a Metro and Clean Water Services project.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Thousands of dirty truck tires have been dug up in the course of a restoration project in between Forest Grove and Gaston.The regional government Metro and water resources management agency Clean Water Services regularly partner to clean up land and restore habitat. And when the entities started a joint remediation of farmland north of Gaston — "part of a broad network of ecological enhancement projects taking place in and around the communities," as Clean Water Services spokeswoman Jessica Bucciarelli described it — they expected to have to address a long-diverted stream that flows onto the 242-acre property.

What they didn't expect is that they would end up having to dig up more than 4,000 old truck tires in the process.

The tires were buried decades ago — project officials aren't exactly sure when — by a former property-owner attempting to keep his fields as dry as possible. The agencies knew there were some tires buried in the ground going into the project, but not how large they were, or how many.

"They basically made a pipe by stacking tires end on end on end," said Anil Devnani, Clean Water Services' project manager.

The tunnel of tires was used to channel the stream underground, Devnani and his Metro counterpart, Peter Guillozet, explained — "which, you know, was done a lot," Guillozet remarked. "The city of Portland, most of the streams were put into pipes."

He added, "It's unusual to use tires."

The property, now officially called the Spring Hill Natural Area, is within the Tualatin River floodplain, and parts of it are regularly inundated during the fall and winter months, Devnani noted.

Guillozet said his understanding is that the old owner took out an advertisement asking for old tires for the project. But while using tires instead of actual piping may have been an ingenious way to save money in the short term, it turns out that the creative use of materials made a poor long-term fix.

COURTESY PHOTO: CLEAN WATER SERVICES - An aerial shot of the Spring Hill Natural Area shows a construction vehicle, stacks of tires and a blue-green material called hydroseed, a mixture of native plant seeds, mulch and soil binding agents.Although it's owned by Metro, more than 100 acres of the Spring Hill Natural Area are still farmed under a lease agreement, Guillozet said.

"The farmer had big flagged areas to avoid, because you essentially had sinkholes where the drain system wasn't functioning — water was getting out, scouring," Devnani said. "It was a straight line of flagged areas that he would avoid so he didn't damage his equipment."

"The tire drain system was failing, to some extent," Guillozet added. "It was probably filling up with silt and had collapsed in some places."

Now, a veritable mountain of dusty excavated tires stands at the edge of the property — a surreal sight for any motorist coming around the corner on Spring Hill Road, just south of its intersection with Fern Hill Road.

Although they're certainly the most visible sign of construction, the tires aren't the only thing that's had to come out since work began on the project in early September. Guillozet said crews have also taken out an old concrete dam, about 200 cubic yards of what he described as "lightly contaminated" dirt and soil, and various other debris that had accumulated on the property over the years.

Clean Water Services, meanwhile, is expected to battle back invasive plant species that have crept onto the property, replant with native vegetation, and maintain the restored habitat for five to seven years afterward.

"We have a long-term commitment to ... the re-veg work," Devnani said.

In total, Guillozet said, the project cost is estimated at about $275,000 — the largest piece of which is the construction work going on now. Disposing of the tires, which Devnani said can't be recycled because of how dirty they are, will end up costing more than expected because of their sheer volume, size and weight. They are expected to be trucked to a Portland dump within the next few weeks.

In general, it's evident that work has come along quickly. About one mile in total of stream channel has been restored or improved, according to Guillozet. Logs, mostly from a thinning project Metro conducted at its Chehalem Ridge Nature Park to the south a couple of years ago, have been placed in areas of the Spring Hill Natural Area that flood during the wetter months, restoring a more natural habitat.

"We went to great lengths to not have any impacts on the neighboring property-owners," Guillozet said. "We adjusted the design after talking with them, and after seeing the elevation of the tires, we decided to modify the project to ensure that we didn't back water up onto his property."

In all, Guillozet said, the response from the community has been positive.

"People have been calling me — not just about the tires, but throughout the summer … and a lot of people have called to express support for the waterfowl that are down here, hoping that we're doing things that are going to promote waterfowl populations, and I've, fortunately, been able to tell them 'yes,'" Guillozet said. "Habitat for birds, fish, other aquatic species and wildlife, and the riparian buffer that Clean Water Services is planting helps shade the river."

The purchase of the property and the restoration project are funded by a natural areas bond measure that regional voters approved in 2006.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Many residents and passersby have expressed curiosity about the mounds of tires excavated by work crews at the Spring Hill Natural Area this fall.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated Jessica Bucciarelli's affiliation. She is a spokeswoman for Clean Water Services. The story has been updated.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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