Two to three feet of water and ice forced the closure of Highway 244 near Red Bridge State Park Thursday afternoon. The road was reopened Friday morning. In addition to the closing of Highway 244, flooding around Union and Wallowa counties has also threatened a number of structures. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Flood waters begin receding by Friday morning
Flooding in Union and Wallowa counties forced at least one road closure Thursday and threatened a number of structures.
Highway 244 near Red Bridge State Park, 16 miles southeast of La Grande was closed late Thursday afternoon and remained closed overnight. The Oregon Department of Transportation announced around 9:30 a.m. Friday that the road had been reopened.
Structures threatened by flooding Wednesday included the home of David Kenney, who lives just north of Imbler on Brooks Road. Water from flooding approached his doorstep on Wednesday and remained pooled on his land Thursday.
“It’s a foot deep where the boat is. I can almost put the boat in the water,” Kenney said Wednesday.
Kenney said the floodwater is coming off fields that are poorly drained.
Kenney said he had cleaned many of the culverts but they were still not draining effectively.
Laird Allen, the City of Elgin’s administrator pro-tem, said that about a half dozen structures were threatened by floodwater Wednesday. A city crew was at one home until 5 p.m. protecting it from flooding. Sandbags remained in the area of North 16th and 17th avenues Thursday.
J.B. Brock, the emergency services director for Union County, said frozen ground has exacerbated flooding conditions in portions of Union County. This is preventing water from being absorbed by the ground.
“For the most part, this is a fairly typical high-water event. We do have some different challenges. Water is not percolating into the ground. That’s a little atypical,” he said.
Rising temperatures caused flooding throughout Wallowa County Wednesday afternoon. Irrigation ditches in Lostine overflowed and water ran over frozen pastures creating ephemeral rivers and lakes.
Highway 82 had standing water a mile southeast of Lostine and a mile south of Enterprise, causing slow traffic conditions. Part of School Flat Road in rural Lostine was partially washed out during the flooding.
The Wallowa River overran its banks along Jim Town Road and flooded Ken and Janet Hohman’s fields. Water came dangerously close to their home.
The best news on the flooding front in Wallowa and Union counties came in the Union area on Thursday. The ice jam in Catherine Creek, a half mile east of Union, began breaking up and by Friday morning the entire channel was clear except for ice along the side of the banks.
“It could not be working out any better,” said Paul Phillips, the City of Union’s public works director.
Phillips and other officials had feared that the ice, which was about 120 yards long, might cause flooding in Union if broke up too quickly, releasing large blocks of ice downstream which might clog Catherine Creek in town. Instead, the jam broke up gradually, with ice softened by warmer temperatures collapsing into the stream every few minutes and then floating downstream.
The threat of Little Creek flooding was also greatly alleviated Thursday. Little Creek, which runs through north Union, was near flood level on Wednesday due to melting snow and ice buildup. On Thursday, however, the ice was washed harmlessly downstream and the creek’s water level dropped.
“It is still dark (from runoff) but it is nowhere near flood stage,” Phillips said.