Clatsop County is looking to move the public works facility in Astoria out of the tsunami inundation zone.
The county commission approved a request Wednesday to hire consultants to do property appraisals and environmental reviews for two possible sites, both inland and south of the Columbia River, that would better serve the southern portions of the county.
Moving public works operations to safer ground has been a priority in the county’s strategic plan since 2012. The Astoria facility, which sits between 10 and 15 feet above sea level on Olney Avenue, is more than 100 years old. In addition to needed upgrades, reports showing the area is at risk for flooding, landslides and, most notably, tsunami inundation, have prompted the department to look for new locations.
Having equipment available to clear and repair roads has been identified as a critical part of transporting supplies and rebuilding after a disaster.
“By moving facilities on the other side of these rivers, maintenance and restoring of these areas can be done better by our crews,” said Ted Mclean, the county’s interim public works director.
Over the past year, public works staff researched several sites that are centrally located, out of the inundation zone and with room to grow.
The Warrenton Fiber sort yard, a 37-acre parcel about 7 miles south of Astoria, meets all of those needs, Mclean said, and has the benefit of already being an industrial site. The biggest advantage, however, is its central location and proximity to the Lewis and Clark Mainline, a logging road that runs from Warrenton to Seaside that the county is also evaluating to possibly purchase.
The goal would be to retrofit the road to make it seismically sound so crews could use it to get to other roads that need clearing after a disaster. It could also serve as an evacuation route for coastal communities and relieve traffic pressure off other surviving roads and bridges.
“A resilient transportation network is critical for re-establishing other lifelines, such as water, electricity, fuel, communication and natural gas after the earthquake,” Mclean wrote in a report.
The county is also exploring a site known as Crown Camp, which most recently served as the company offices for Greenwood Resources, off Lewis and Clark Road near Seaside. The site includes existing industrial infrastructure, like utilities and a maintenance shop, and at 30 acres, could provide enough space for road material storage and a staging area for equipment.
Though public works believes the site is not centrally located enough to serve as a main public works facility, Mclean said it is ideal for expanding public works resources to South County. The site also would allow the department to store equipment in multiple places in case access to one is blocked, and has the potential to serve as a South County emergency operations center.
“Logistically, we wanted to move our facility so we could better serve the residences in coastal communities of South County,” Mclean said. “The biggest thing we don’t want to do logistically for our road department is to put all our equipment in one spot.”
In general, county commissioners were enthusiastic about the proposal.
“I wish we would have done this 10 years ago,” County Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan said.
Potential barriers do remain. Because both sites are zoned for forestry, and public works facilities are not permitted outright in the zone, each would require a goal exception from the state. The Public Works Department has been building a reserve for the project for years, but whether the county will be able to afford the properties remains to be seen.
Tiffany Brown, the county’s emergency manager, cautioned commissioners that more conversation needed to happen before assuming either of these locations could be a default emergency operation center or evacuation site. Overall, though, Brown was supportive of the idea of getting key services out of the inundation zone.
“There’s so much energy for emergency preparedness right now,” Brown said. “There’s momentum, and this project is an exciting piece of that.”