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Highway 203 reopened following second closure in the last two days
UNION — A one-mile stretch of Highway 203 immediately east of Union reopened at 7:30 a.m. today after being closed since early Tuesday evening due to flooding caused by an ice blockage in Catherine Creek.
This was the second time the road has been closed in the past two days. The stretch of Highway 203 was first closed from about 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday after water pushed a massive pile of ice on to a 150- to 200-yard stretch of Highway 203.
“It was 3- to 4-feet high,” said J.B. Brock, director of Union County Emergency Services.
The ice was cleared by Oregon Department of Transportation crews, who used loaders to move the ice off the road. Most of it was pushed to the south side of the road, creating an ice field
Despite the reopening of Highway 203, a dark cloud hangs over Union. An ice jam is continuing to build on Catherine Creek along this stretch of Highway 203, according to Paul Phillips, the city of Union’s public works director.
“It has the potential to be a pretty ugly situation. We just hope that it does not end up that way,” Phillips said. “It is either going to continue to get bigger and bigger or it is going to blow out.”
If the ice blows out and flows down Catherine Creek into Union, it could put the city at risk.
“If it plugs up, there could be a flooding issue,” Phillips said.
He said that the best people can hope for is that the ice jam gradually dissolves.
“It is up to Mother Nature. It is in her hands,” Phillips said.
The ice blockages in Catherine Creek have been brought on by a temperature inversion, Phillips said. The inversion resulted in increased temperatures at higher elevations, causing snow and ice to melt and resulting in higher flows in Catherine Creek where freezing temperatures have prevailed.
Departments and agencies that have been addressing the Catherine Creek ice jam situation in the Union area in addition to ODOT and the City of Union Public Works Department, are the Union Fire Department, Union County Public Works and the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
Many people with these departments and agencies have been monitoring the ice jam situation closely, something that is not an exact science, Brock said.
“Ice is very unpredictable,” Brock said.
The water level at Catherine Creek along Birch and East Arch streets was not nearing flood stage as of 10:45 a.m. today.
Union residents get jolt after receiving flood warning late Monday evening
By Dick Mason
UNION — Billy Allen and his wife, Lynette, received a jolt about 8:45 p.m. Monday while at their home along Catherine Creek on the west edge of Union.
A member of Union’s fire department came to the Allen’s home and told them that an ice blockage on Catherine Creek could cause the creek to jump its banks and flood their Birch Street home. The Allens were asked to call 911 immediately if they saw the water rising.
“It was alarming,” Billy Allen said. “I thought, this is getting serious.”
Ray Sypher, who lives next door to the Allens received the same warning.
“I was on alert,” Sypher said.
An ice jam continues to grow in size Tuesday on Catherine Creek outside of Union along Highway 203. The ice jam occurred when warm temperatures at higher elevations caused snow and ice to melt, resulting in higher creek flows that sent chunks and blocks of ice downriver. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Sypher, the Allens and many others living along Birch Street and East Arch Street were warned by Union firefighters and City of Union Public Works staff of the danger of a flood. They were more at risk because the bank of Catherine Creek is lower along Birch Street and East Arch street, said Paul Phillips, public works superintendent for the City of Union.
People were encouraged to move their horses to higher ground and to take away anything they had next to the creek.
Sypher said he knew that something was up before the firefighters came to his door because he had seen someone with the Union County Sheriff’s Office checking Catherine Creek with a flashlight.
Sypher and the Allens were on edge the rest of the evening, checking the level of Catherine Creek every 90 minutes to two hours into early Tuesday.
Fortunately, they found that the level of Catherine Creek, along Birch Street, had not risen.
Still, they had reason to be concerned.
“We could hear the ice popping and cracking,” Lynette Allen said.
Such sounds meant that ice could be merging to create a dam that would trigger a flood.
Lynette Allen said she and her husband were ready to get sandbags which had been brought in by Union County’s Emergency Services department and put them next to their home.