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Deadly snow and ice storm leaves path of destruction in its wake; sewage treatment at 75% capacity

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Icy tree branches snapped, damaging a yellow car parked in the Old Town area of Wilsonville on Sunday. More than 72,000 Clackamas County residents are still without power as the county and Portland General Electric work to recover from one of the worst ice storms in 40 years.

According to Nancy Bush, county disaster management director, many residents in cities such as Canby and Molalla will be seeing their power restored today, but many more residents in rural areas have still yet to see the lights come back on.

Bush told county commissioners Tuesday, Feb. 16, that approximately 250,000 Clackamas County residents were without power at one point over the past three days — more than a quarter of the county's total population.

"As you can imagine, all of our networks were down and the cities were having a lot of difficulty communicating as well," Bush said.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Icy tree branches fell across a dance studio in Wilsonville on Sunday, Feb. 21. According to Bush, staff within the county's emergency operations center (EOC) have been reaching out to cities, fire departments and law-enforcement agencies to ensure they were connected to state resources for fuel for vehicles and backup generators. Bush said the county's been coordinating with fire departments to ensure they have access to oxygen tanks to deliver to homebound residents who needed it, as well as generators for homes that needed them. Oxygen is in short supply at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're working through those issues, but, unfortunately, we do know that there was at least one death because of an oxygen issue," Bush said. "So we're still working on that, and the state is actually trying to help us get some oxygen tanks today, but we will continue to get those out and work through social services to identify where some of them are."

According to Bush, the county suffered an additional four deaths this weekend due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Bush wasn't able to share any further details about those deaths, but carbon monoxide poisonings are known to occur in houseless populations when the temperature drops below freezing and many retreat into running cars to keep warm.

Bush said that the county's human services division has set up a call center to take non-emergency calls from community members to connect them to county services they might require, as well as two physical locations at yet-to-be-determined locations in Molalla and Milwaukie.

Dan Johnson, county transportation and development director, told the board of commissioners that of the 1,400 miles of road the county is responsible for maintaining, there are about 20 miles of road still classified as "yellow," meaning those roads are basically reduced to one-lane and travelers are warned to use extreme caution. A total of about 15 miles of road are completely impassable with rows of trees and debris needing to be removed from the roadway.

"Keep in mind our lovely county has a lot of elevation to it, so while a lot of our road crews were down here trying to deal with the issues that were local, we are still dealing with issues up at the mountain, and they are still up there providing great service," Johnson said. "We are coordinating with the EOC to get a better handle on our total debris and see how we're going to take care of it, whether we're going to have to stand up a debris management team or other contracts."

According to Johnson, Portland General Electric is describing this weekend's events as "40-year event."

"I appreciate that folks are frustrated by some of the roads we weren't able to get to — we'll try to get to them as soon as possible," he said.

Outages in Clackamas County not only affected residents, but government services as well. The county's Water Environment Services (WES) division lost power intermittently at both its Tri-City Wastewater Treatment Plant along the Clackamas River in Oregon City and Kellogg Creek Water Resource Recovery facility in Milwaukie.

According to WES Operations Manager Greg Eyerly, both facilities were forced to transition from grid power, to generator power and back again on a couple different occasions. Eyerly said that the Kellogg Creek plant never lost power and was transitioned smoothly from one source to the other, but the Tri-City plant had some difficulties going back and forth between grid and generator power causing internal communications to drop out.

"We did have an issue with our influent head works, and the entire plant shut down except for our influent pumps," Eyerly explained. "It caused what we call our 'bar screens,' which screen large debris out of our wastewater, to stop. But the influent was continuing to come into the plant and we ended up with flooding in our influent area, out the front door of our pump station and onto the ground causing damage and soil erosion."

Eyerly told commissioners that WES has been in constant contact with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in regard to the influent spill at the Tri-City plant.

PHOTO COURTESY: KOIN 6 NEWS - A tree goes down in Gladstone over the weekend, severing power to thousands of people in Clackamas County.Eyerly said that Tri-City plant staff were able to get the plant restarted and is currently still running on generator power at about 75% capacity. The generator burns approximately 100 gallons of diesel fuel per hour with a 5,000 tank, meaning they only have about 50 hours of fuel before they'll run out.

According to Eyerly, there are two legs of power to fully run the plant — the Abernethy leg and Jennifer Street leg. Both legs went out over the weekend, as far as Eyerly knows, that's never happened before in Tri-City plant's history. He also said that WES lost power at all of its major pump stations, and they are currently running on standby generation with only a few back on the grid. Those six that remain on backup power need to be refueled every 24 hours.

WES is working with the EOC to connect with the state for additional fuel resources to keep the power running at its many locations where generators are being used.


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