City & Government, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Pleasant Hill, Public Safety & Health, Springfield

Power outages, tree debris dominate post-storm work

As the ice melted and a welcome thaw set over the southern Willamette Valley this week, the rising temperatures matched frustrated residents and volunteers. Lane County, Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Creswell all declared a state of emergency last week – a declaration that should speed resources and help to the most damaged areas. 

“What that allows us to do is free up any city resources to address the storm and the damages,” said Faye Stewart, Cottage Grove public works director. “It also allows for streamline contracting so that we can just contact directly without having to go through the formal contracting process. It also allows us to signal to the County and the State that we’re in an emergency situation down here, and it makes them available to reach out to receive assistance and help.

“In the end, if the federal government or the state appropriates money to address the cost of the storm, then the city would be able to seek reimbursement, so that’s kind of the reason behind the emergency declaration,” he said.

Laurie Trieger, chair of the Lane County Board of Commissioners, said declaring the emergency allowed the State to be able to follow suit and provide fiscal and personnel support to the County. There are certain criteria the county must meet to declare a state of emergency, which is why she said this could not be done as quickly as some residents wished.

One of those thresholds the County needed to meet was that the cost to respond to the ice storm locally has exceeded $2 million across agencies, including local governments and utilities. Workers trying to restore power and clear roads are dealing with the storm in their personal lives, too.

Springfield’s downtown Main Street was littered with tree debris.
Erin Tierney-Heggenstaller

“Please understand also that we have people working at Lane County who are in the exact same situation as other residents. We have people working remotely from home using generators and flashlights and so on to run their phones,” Trieger said. “We are absolutely doing everything we can to keep operations going, to pivot all our resources to response, and this declaration will only help us do that more effectively.”

Public information officer Devon Ashbridge said the worst damage seen throughout the county is regarding electrical infrastructure. Meredith Clark, Springfield Utility Board community relations manager, put the destructive weather into perspective.

“This storm was four days of active damage. The last time that we had an ice storm come through, when we saw the most damage we’d ever seen, was in 2014,” Clark said. “We had seven broken poles in our system during that time. This year, with this storm, we have over 80 and counting.”

A playground in Cottage Grove is surrounded with fallen tree limbs. 
Benjamin Nash

There are fewer than 2,000 SUB customers without power as of Jan. 22, according to Clark; a drastic shift from the 10,000-11,000 SUB customers who have been without power.

SUB was also faced with issues in its water system from Jan. 17-20.

“The recent ice storm has caused damage to SUB’s electric system, which has also affected parts of our water source distribution system,” SUB officials wrote in a Jan. 17 news release.

Due to loss of pressure in its water system, SUB issued a boil water notice to customers in its east and west water distribution system on Jan. 17 due to potentially harmful bacteria in the water. Later that evening, Lane County Environmental Health instructed all restaurants within SUB’s east district to cease operations. By Jan. 19, SUB’s boil water notice for both sides had been lifted.

Lane Electric’s most recent update prior to The Chronicle’s print deadline on Jan. 23 was that power had been restored to 73% of its affected customers. That number may be reassuring when considering its thousands of customers, but 98.53% of Creswell customers and 88.8% of Pleasant Hill customers remain without power. All 26 Lane Electric customers in Springfield are still without power as well. Cottage Grove only has 16.93% of Lane Electric customers without power, though.

Lane Electric’s most severely impacted areas may be without power until Feb. 4.

Lane Electric officials announced that all of the transmission lines to the Cloverdale substation, which serves 19 streets in Creswell and seven streets in Pleasant Hill, “were substantially damaged and will require what amounts to a complete rebuild” on Jan. 17.

Dana Ufford

At the time, it projected those affected may be without power beyond Jan. 26. On Jan. 21, Lane Electric announced that those who were impacted by the Cloverdale substation’s failure may receive power through a backup generator on Jan. 24.

Lane Electric noted that Creswell got the brunt of the ice storm, as 118 of the 158 damaged poles its crews identified were in Creswell, “marking a historic level of impact in the area.”

Another destructive facet of the ice storm is the uncountable amount of fallen trees. Timelines for restoration are unknown at the moment, but Stewart said it’s going to take Cottage Grove months.

“We had a mountain, literally a mountain of woody material where the dog park and the current campsite is off of 12th Street. It was 30,000 plus tons of material, so we’re gonna have something very similar, maybe twice the size of that volume to deal with this time,” he said. “I’m guessing 50% of the trees at the golf course are damaged beyond repair and are going to have to be taken out, and that’s going to take a significant amount of time.”

Stewart said this catastrophic ice storm was reminiscent of the 2019’s snowstorm, but he noted that power companies were able to restore power within 24 hours during that storm.

“This is significantly worse than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “As far as damage that we’ve seen in the community, it is significantly more.”

Crews work to restore services on River Road in Cottage Grove Oregon. Bob Williams

Ben Gibson, Springfield operations maintenance manager, thinks Springfield’s cleanup efforts will take about three to four months.

Creswell city manager Michelle Amberg said Creswell lost many trees, but she doesn’t consider fallen trees to be a long-term issue there. She said the community banded together last weekend and cleaned up a lot of fallen tree debris, bringing it to the City’s debris site at 395 Meadow Lane. While she isn’t too concerned about handling the City’s fallen trees, Amberg did mention replacing the trees as a long-term impact.

No county was hit harder – or affected more dramatically – than Lane County, according to Mindy McCartt, Oregon Department of Transportation public information officer.

“It’s one of our biggest counties, and no other county has had as much power loss and long-term road closures as Lane County,” she said. 

McCartt said it will potentially take months to calculate the monetary damage the storm left in its wake. Likewise, it’s going to take an extended amount of time to get all the roads back to normal.

“It’s a long-term cleanup. We can get them clear, but those roads are not clean,” McCartt said. “The shoulders have piles of shrubs and trees that need to be taken somewhere.”

More assessments will continue over the next weeks.

“With the emergency declaration in place, and with roads reopening, we’re starting to see those resources we requested come into the community,” Ashbridge said. “We are seeing movement. Hopefully we’ll see an uptick in the amount of resources available here to assist with our recovery.”



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