Court discusses Vehicle Use Agreement
by Steve Howe
During the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) District 14 Manager Paul Woodworth was present to discuss the U.S. Highway 395 Vance Creek and Sheep Gulch culvert replacement projects and temporary highway closure scheduled to occur in November.
ODOT will be replacing two culverts under Highway 395 (between Burns and John Day) in November. The Sheep Gulch Culvert near mile post 6.1-C and the Vance Creek Culvert near mile post 11-C have been determined insufficient to handle water and debris flows anticipated due to erosion issues left after the Canyon Creek Complex fire that burned through the area in August and September. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is estimating a 100 to 650 percent increase in water and debris flow along several creeks that drain off the mountainside into Canyon Creek and other local tributaries. The project will replace the culverts with new structures that are designed to accommodate the anticipated flows.
“It is critical to address these culverts now, before rain and spring snow melt,” Woodworth said in a news release. “If the existing culverts get plugged due to debris and excessive run-off, the highway could be washed out, resulting in a possible month-long highway closure. Our goal is to control timing and mitigate potential long-term impact due to a washout event.”
To facilitate the project, Highway 395 will be closed between mile post 2.5-C and 17-C for 10 days beginning Nov. 4. The closure will be followed by several days of single-lane travel controlled by pilot cars and flaggers, while crews continue the work. ODOT will work with local fire and emergency service providers and private property owners located between the two work sites to help accommodate critical needs as much as possible.
There is no local detour around the work sites for through traffic. Travelers will need to detour along U.S. Highway 26 to Vale, then back along U.S. Highway 20 to Burns or take other alternate routes that remain passable in winter.
Woodworth explained to the court that this was a continuation of the work ODOT has already done on Highway 395 as a result of the Canyon Creek Complex fire.
ODOT had to close the highway down for days due to the direct threat of the fire, and then for the threat of hazardous trees. He said he estimated that they removed a thousand hazard trees (trees that were currently or would in the future be dangerous to highway traffic). Using a numbering system in which a number was assigned to, and spray-painted on, each cut tree and its stump, ODOT made sure that trees cut on private property were available for property owners to claim, Woodworth explained.
Woodworth said the big issue now is increased water flows in Canyon Creek and all the tributaries that flow into it. Canyon Creek runs parallel to Highway 395 for about 10 miles. USFS analysis predicts flows in Canyon Creek could be at 300 percent of normal and in Vance Creek (a tributary of Canyon Creek) at 700 percent of normal, during a 10-year, 24-hour storm event (a storm event with a 10 percent chance of happening in any given year).
“But even the normal flows are projected to be higher – but not at flood stage,” said Woodworth.
This first phase of safeguarding the highway against the threat of flooding is taking care of the two culverts, Sheep Gulch and Vance Creek, that are at most risk for getting clogged with debris and potentially causing the road to be washed out, Woodworth explained. At Vance Creek, a five-foot diameter culvert will be replaced with one that is 20 feet in diameter.
Another topic Woodworth discussed was the traffic signal project at the intersection of Highway 20 and Hilander Boulevard in Burns. In order to complete the work, the intersection will be turned into a four-way stop for an expected 30 days.
Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Agent Shana Withee discussed with the court the Intergovernmental Agreement and Vehicle Use Agreement between OSU Extension Service and Harney County. The purpose of the agreements, which will expire June 30, 2017, is the provision of the delivery of OSU educational programs to the citizens of Harney County. Both agreements were passed unanimously.
In other business, the court:
• heard from Harney County Judge Steve Grasty regarding legislation that is providing monies to counties with greater sage grouse habitat in support of Rangeland Fire Protection Associations (RFPAs) for the 2015-17 biennium. Grasty suggested that meetings be scheduled with county RFPAs to discuss the use of the funds;
• Grasty discussed the need for a new dedicated fund for state lottery dollars received by Harney County. The court unanimously approved Resolution No. 2015-13 in the matter of establishment of a dedicated fund for furthering economic development;
• reviewed correspondence from the Oregon Water Resources Department giving notice of the annual required water use report due by the end of this year;
• reviewed water use requests.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.