LA GRANDE — The aftermath of last week's winter storm and subsequent flooding carried through the weekend and prompted the Union County Board of Commissioners to declare a state of emergency.
The board met Monday at noon in an emergency session. Commissioner Donna Beverage was the lone board member present. Commissioners Paul Anderes and Matt Scarfo called in. They were participating in the Association of Oregon Counties' effort to lobby lawmakers in Salem during the legislation session.
The emergency resolution noted the Grande Ronde River on Thursday reached a record crest of 8.54 feet. The high water eroded the river's banks, creating flooding in many Union County communities. The board voted 3-0 in favor of the declaration, which comes in the wake of Gov. Kate Brown on Friday declaring a state of emergency in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties due to the flooding.
Floodwaters damaged property and cut off phone service and internet for some residents and businesses in Union County. The Spectrum outage began Friday night and persists, with little insight from the company about when service will be restored.
Bret Picciolo, Spectrum's spokesperson for the northwest region, told The Observer Sunday the internet outage was due to damage to a third-party fiber optic line. Picciolo said Monday Spectrum has not been able to restore service because crews cannot access equipment in areas under an evacuation. The outage is affecting areas in Union and Baker counties.
The company has refused to say how many customers are without service.
"I'm unable to share customer numbers for competitive reasons," Picciolo said in a follow-up email.
An unofficial source within the company said at least 3,000 local customers reported their internet was down. Some residents said Spectrum will give credit for the time customers are without service. Picciolo said Spectrum is working with customers individually.
Law enforcement, Oregon Department of Transportation, the city of La Grande and Union County remain connected because they use other companies for their internet service. Other locations, including The Observer's office and various local restaurants and businesses are without primary internet service.
The loss of internet service has been a source of frustration for many, but a small boom for some who are stepping forward to help those who have lost their connection to the outside world. They include Spring Roberts, the owner of Le Bebe Cakes Bakery & Coffee House, La Grande.
Le Bebe normally is closed Mondays during the winter, but Roberts decided to open it Monday to provide those who need it with Wi-Fi, which her bakery and coffee shop offers.
"I put it on Facebook on Sunday and received many likes," Roberts said.
Her shop was packed with people using its Wi-Fi service during the time it was open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Le Bebe had many new customers Monday as a result, including a number of accountants.
Colleen MacLeod, who owns Joe Beans coffee shop in downtown La Grande with her husband, Al, said her business was up Monday thanks in part to new customers who were coming in to use the business' Wi-Fi.
Activity also jumped at La Grande's Cook Memorial Library and Pierce Library at Eastern Oregon University because of the internet outage.
Kip Roberson, director of Cook Memorial Library, La Grande, said 859 people came to the library Saturday, up from 686 the previous Saturday. Roberson was among those who came to the library Saturday because, like many, he could not access the internet at home. He said the library's Wi-Fi is available to everyone, not just those who have library cards. The Network for Education and Research in Oregon, a nonprofit consortium, provides the library's internet service.
Roberson noted the library also has internet hotspots people can check out. These small devices pick up internet signals anywhere there is cell service. Cook Memorial Library has 10 hot spots, all of which are now checked out.
Karen Clay, director of Pierce Library, said the number of EOU students using the library over the weekend was up. She believes it was because of students coming to use the Wi-Fi service.
"We saw a number of people who were not regulars," Clay said.
Many likely were students, Clay said, who live in La Grande and take EOU classes online.
Brent Clapp, the owner of La GrandeAlive, an internet television station, said the outage did not affect his company because he receives his service from Eastern Oregon Net Inc., which he said has been providing excellent service. Clapp also said the many people who watch La GrandeAlive programming have not been affected by the outage. Clapp said he believes this is because many people watch La GrandeAlive programming on smartphones, which the lack of service has not affected as much as other devices.
The outage also has not put the pinch on Frontier Communications, which provides landline phone and internet service, according to a company spokesperson. He said the fiber optic cable Frontier receives its signals from in the Grande Ronde Valley may have followed a route not affected by the flooding.
Kyle Carpenter, La Grande public work's director, reported most of the city's systems to deal with the high water performed well and sustained little damage.
"Some new areas of vulnerability were identified," he said, "and staff have begun working on ways to mediate them in the future."
The flooding in La Grande damaged C Avenue from Sunset Avenue to the end of the road to the west, L Avenue from Cedar to Second Street, and the intersection of Fourth Street and N Avenue. The city created a trench at L Avenue from Cedar to Second to keep water away from homes and has already scheduled the area for repairs in the spring. The flooding sent a geyser of water 3-feet tall that blew off the manhole cover at Fourth Street and N Avenue, according to Carpenter.
Additionally, the city's wastewater treatment plant experienced an overflow. Carpenter reported the plant was designed to hold about 11 million gallons of water per day, but during the flooding about 17.5 million gallons flowed in. However, he stated, the plant had a system in place to deal with the overflow and remains operational.