Local News Politics & Policy

City lands funds to protect against landslides

Anyone who has spent time in Astoria or considered buying property in the city, often learns one thing very quickly: It is a landscape prone to sliding.

The evidence of past slides can be as subtle as oddly slanted trees on a hillside, but the scar of one slide visible just beyond two major tourist attractions — the historic Flavel House museum and the Oregon Film Museum — is more obvious.

A looming retaining wall where West Bond Street narrows and meets Hume Avenue also speaks to the city’s moving hillsides. It holds back a massive slide that twisted a portion of Commercial Street above.

Steep slopes and poor soil makes the north side of Astoria particularly vulnerable to sliding. Last year, a landslide uprooted an entire house and left it sitting on the sidewalk.

But the city recently landed more than $600,000 in federal aid to upgrade drainage systems at landslide prone sites.

The money is part of a larger spending package that will fund projects throughout Northwest Oregon. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici had advocated for the inclusion of the projects as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Agreement to fund the federal government for 2022.

In Astoria, the money will help fund upgrades to dewatering systems at two priority sites, one near Columbia Memorial Hospital on the east end of town and another at First and Commercial Street. These systems were constructed in the 1950s after three major slides hit and displaced many homes.

But Astoria has 120 identified landslide deposits in its city limits.

City leaders like Mayor Bruce Jones hope this initial flush of federal funding will lead to even more opportunities to address landslide areas in the future.

“In the scheme of things, when you consider how many landslide areas there are in Astoria, it’s a relatively small amount of money,” Jones said. “It’s going to make a big improvement in those areas but there’s a lot more to be done.”

“Certainly,” he added, “we don’t want to give any false sense of security that it eliminates any risk of landslides, but it does mitigate it and we think it’s a significant mitigation and we’re very appreciative of the funding.”

Jeff Harrington, Astoria’s public works director, echoed Jones’ comments

“This is in no way going to prevent all landslides from happening,” Harrington said. “It’s just a step in the right direction.”

He says work at the two sites will include replacing storm inlet structures, storm piping and utilizing other types of dewatering techniques to try to capture as much water as possible during wet weather events.

“We’ve learned that five inches of rain in a 48-hour period … tends to be what triggers some of our landslides in our area,” Harrington said.

He hopes work can begin this summer and fall. But these types of projects require extensive review by various agencies. Work may not begin until next year.

The federal money will fund a large portion of the work and the city will fund the rest.