Residents take logjam into their own hands - County said it wouldn't help; job gets done for far less than feared

The Olympian

August 8, 2002

Bill Pendergast stood on the banks of the Deschutes River on Wednesday afternoon and watched as the claws of a large log loader pulled 60-foot logs out of the water, whisked them through the air and deposited them in a pile on dry land.

The loader removed enough logs in the first four hours of operation to make the formerly stagnant water begin a slow, gentle movement past a logjam that has been growing for the past six years.
Logs are removed from the Deschutes River by Don Grate, who was hired by nearby resident Bill Pendergast to remove a blockage in the river that has been building for six years.

Mike Salsbury/The Olympian


Mike Salsbury/The Olympian

And, if the project continues as expected, within the next few weeks Pendergast and his neighbors will have accomplished what Thurston County could not, and at a fraction of the projected cost.

Deschutes River and Offut Lake residents began work this week on removing the 1,300-foot logjam.

The logjam has threatened to flood homes along the river during winter storms.

The river overflows into Offut Lake, and residents there experienced flooding last winter when water levels rose.

Pendergast and his neighbors have wondered how long it would take for the river to claim their homes.

"This is so cool; it's beautiful," Pendergast said Wednesday as sections of the river that had been obscured for years by logs and debris became visible.

Pendergast has lived on a five-acre farm along the river for the past 30 years and has watched the logjam grow, he said.

The logjam is on the southern end of an S-shaped bend in the river, which made a natural spot for the wood to accumulate.

Emergency comes, goes

County officials declared an emergency in December when the logjam grew from 600 to 1,200 feet and threatened to flood homes near the Waldrick Road bridge. The county hired consultants and studied water levels at the logjam.

The Board of Commissioners terminated the emergency status in May, when the rainy season ended.

County monitoring and involvement ended, and responsibility for the logjam went back to the nine homeowners.

"When the county made their decision, it became a citizen issue," a representative of the Thurston County Emergency Operations Center said Wednesday.

Neighbors weren't about to give in.

"Another 100 feet and the logjam would reach my berm and take my house out," Pendergast said. "I couldn't just let that happen. I've always said I'll never give up."

Pendergast's neighbors are chipping in on expenses, and the log loader operator, Don Grate, is volunteering his time to keep expenses down. But Pendergast plans to pay the majority of the costs.

The logjam removal is expected to cost between $12,000 and $13,000 -- a far cry from the $1.6 million projected when the county was considering taking on the logjam, Pendergast said.

"But the county engineer was looking at the worst-case scenario and talking about building roads with trucks and bringing the logs out for 100 percent removal.

"We can do this a lot less expensively with volunteers and burning the logs ourselves," he said.

Although the county abandoned efforts on the logjam, at least for the dry season, County Commissioner Kevin O'Sullivan has continued to work with Deschutes River residents.

On Saturday, O'Sullivan and a crew of jail inmates used a donated backhoe to clear roads for the heavy equipment.

O'Sullivan also is working to find a bridge and a bumper boat -- similar to those used by logging companies to push logs in the water -- to aid the log loader, which was unable to navigate portions of the river Wednesday morning.

The original plan was for the loader to dump debris on parts of the river and move over that to reach other sections of the logjam. However, the debris sank in the clay river bottom Wednesday morning, making it impossible to drive the loader beyond the solid soil, Pendergast said.

Logs and other wood removed from the river won't go to waste.

O'Sullivan has coordinated a project with a local church to cut up and distribute the wood to low-income residents for firewood.

"I think that's a great idea because it would take us two-lifetimes to use that much firewood," Pendergast said.

Greg Corbin owns the 13-acre property used by neighbors to access the logjam.

Corbin's home is 2,000 to 4,000 feet from the river, but he worried about his neighbors if the logjam wasn't removed before the rains started up again.

"Bill Pendergast has lived there for much of his life, and that's his home," Corbin said. "When you've lived somewhere that long, it's tough to move. I didn't want to see that have to happen."

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