The Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office holds an unofficial title amongst emergency officials as the county’s search and rescue team during a county-wide emergency. But obstacles on the roads during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 often left deputies stumped.
Most rescues involved elderly people in rural areas. They even received requests to deliver fuel for generators and other supplies.
But as deputies drove out to these areas, thousands of downed trees and damaged roads greeted them. Some even carried chainsaws to clear roads as they responded to calls.
A state law passed in 1971 mandated that trees must not be logged within 100 feet of a highway. These forested buffer zones created canopies over highways.
Because trees were logged behind them, the open air made the remaining shrub vulnerable to wind. Even before the storm, trees and large limbs would fall on the highway — taking out power lines and inhibiting road access. The shade from the trees also lengthened the process of snow melt, a factor at high altitudes during the gale.
“It really made me think about, ‘How can we have all these trees encroaching upon the road so much? It’s killing us,’” Bergin said. “That storm really was the catalyst to getting these trees cleared off the roadway and getting them moved back.”
In the years following the storm, Bergin worked with State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, to pass legislation allowing for hazardous trees to be cleared from state highways.
The state legislature passed a bill in 2012 allowing the tree removal, even if they are located in the buffer zones. After pushback from groups hoping to conserve the trees, Bergin accomplished a goal rooted in the gale.
“These trees, they’re beautiful,” Bergin said. “We all want trees, but they have to be backed off the road so when we have these huge major events, we don’t lose the power and we don’t lose people.”
Many potentially dangerous trees have been removed since then, and many more will be cut in years to come.
“It took 30, 40 years to get here, so it’s going to take us a few years to get it cleaned back out,” Bergin said.