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  • Jordan D. Smith

River Trails Reopen Following Ice Jam Flooding




The end of January, ice jams from breaking up river ice once again flowed through town backing up the river on Water and Canal Streets and inundating portions of the Portland River Trail.  These rapidly moving waters floated huge ice floes and trees far up onto the shore at the Bogue Flats Recreation Area and Thompson Fields Park blocking pathways even after the water receded.  Waters also flooded basements of some homes near the river causing power to be disconnected.


The damage to the riverside harkens back to 2019 when ice jam flooding in late February led to multiple bridges over the Grand River being closed for fear for their structural integrity, causing long detours for traffic.  While the flooding this winter did not lead to nearly that level of disruption, it did impact parks intensely along the river.  “Although we have not yet fully assessed the trail, we do not feel it’s anywhere near the damage caused in 2019,” says Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman, “the damage in 2019 was due to heavy equipment engaged in flood mitigation related to the wastewater treatment plant.”  Some damage remains clearly visible in the Thompson Field area where ice floes broke off lamp posts and displaced benches and picnic tables.  


Gorman say that the River Trail is now clear of ice and debris and open for use. “when these events occur as they regularly do, we often opt to have mother nature take its course to an extent,” allowing ice to melt rather than moving it with heavy equipment.  According to Gorman, the use of heavy machinery often causes more damage to the trails than the ice or flooding itself.  That was certainly the case in 2019, when sections of the River Trail near the wastewater treatment plant were severely damaged by earth moving equipment while attempting to block flood waters from entering the plant. 


Looking to the future, Gorman says that damage to the River Tail and parks is largely inevitable with the proximity to the river.  However, several improvements ongoing at the wastewater treatment plan will help mitigate issues the plant faced in 2019 when ice jam flooding threatened to overwhelm the facility.  “One of those key improvements will provide the means for the City to pump treated wastewater to the river as opposed to relying on gravity – when the river is elevated, the differential between the water coming out of the plant and the water in the river is reduced,” says Gorman.  In addition, excess flood water entering the water water system can threaten to overwhelm  the system.  Updates to the two sanitary sewer crossings are in the works for the future, which would help minimize that issue.


“The Grand and Looking Glass Rivers are incredible resources for the Portland community,” says Gorman, “ but having a City located on a section of river that is inherently prone to ice jams comes with ongoing challenges.”

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