By Lyra Fontaine
The Daily Astorian
SEASIDE — U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici got a bird’s eye view of the North Coast Land Conservancy’s floodplain restoration project from an area on Boneyard Ridge, overlooking Circle Creek and U.S. Highway 101 and the ocean.
Bonamici, D-Ore., visited the land conservancy’s Circle Creek Habitat Reserve and Boneyard Ridge property on Monday to speak with staff and see how the project alleviated yearly flooding.
During high tides and heavy rains, Highway 101 would flood every winter and the road would have to close, said Melissa Reich, the organization’s stewardship director. When the highway was impassable, Cannon Beach residents were unable to get to the hospital by ambulance.
To restore the floodplain, the land conservancy and its partners — including Clatsop County and the Oregon Department of Transportation — excavated sections of a berm that was built along the Necanicum River, leaving certain areas to maintain older trees.
The partial berm removal in 2013 allowed water from the Necanicum River to naturally flood the Circle Creek floodplain, instead of the adjacent Highway 101, thus preventing unsafe driving conditions, delays and road closures.
“If we had come up here in a flood event, you would see that the whole property is underwater,” Reich said. “Everywhere that’s green is underwater.”
“Not a lot of properties are excited about having their property flooded, but we are,” said Conservancy Associate Director Jon Wickersham.
An analysis after the first year of the project showed that the floodplain restoration prevented the road from having to close at least three times that winter, Reich said. When the highway was closed elsewhere during last winter’s big rainstorm, it was passable by Circle Creek, she said.
Since the summer 2013 project, the land conservancy has planted 10,000 trees each winter, Reich said.
“It’s a win-win for the community because it not only addressed the flooding, but also provided the restoration and recreation opportunities,” said Bonamici, adding that the project was an example of finding “smarter, better ways to do things.”
The land conservancy acquired the 364-acre Circle Creek property in 2004. The site now includes the Circle Creek Conservation Center event venue and two walking trails that are publicly accessible daily.
Circle Creek is home to native wildlife such as coho salmon, red-legged frogs, salamanders, beaver, coyote, waterfowl, nesting bald eagles and an elk herd. The winter floods encourage more wildlife to come onto the land, according to the organization.
In July, the land conservancy purchased the 340-acre Boneyard Ridge property, just west of Circle Creek. The acquisition connects 3,500 acres of conserved land.
Wickersham told Bonamici about the conservancy’s plan to acquire 3,300 acres of timberland at Onion Peak within the next five years and informed her of the organization’s 30th year anniversary.
“We’ve seen our base of supporters grow tremendously, even in the last five to 10 years,” Wickersham said. “We really started taking our message out to the community.”