Prior to this January, City staff described four floods (1861, 1890, 1964 and 1996) as exceeding (or coming close to) 100-year flood levels. It characterizes the flooding of January of this year as an “80-year event.”
Meanwhile, residents in both Turner and downtown Salem are increasingly concerned about construction in, and management plans for, South Salem watersheds; water overflows from there to rush first southeast through Turner and then northwest, directly through Salem.
As John Shepard, co-chair of the Mill Creek Watershed Council says, “It’s death from a thousand little cuts,” when he describes adding more construction to flooding regions. “Every time we put in a bit of concrete, a bit of asphalt – it’s a cut. We need to know more before we bleed to death, or flood out.”
Previously this year, Salem’s Planning Commission voted to augment construction in the 1500 block of Davis Road, (Zone Change Case No, 12-03) of South Salem. The Commission changed the legal designations of the area to accommodate wider development.
At a public hearing in July, Salem City Council asked for more information about the construction. They asked about the probability of another “100-year” event in the Battle Creek Basin and the adequacy of storm water provisions in Planning Commission plans. After some research, City Staff recommended that the City Council amend the Planning Commission’s action by adding a condition that would “increase… required storage capacity of local storm water detention facilities to provide flow control for the entire 100-year flood discharge from the proposed development.”
At the City Council meeting on August 13, Councilors said they understood this as augmenting storm water pipes from the 50-year capacity required by the Planning Commission – to a 100-year capacity. It would make the pipes 15% larger. Several councilors agreed that the change was not a profound one, but that it was a step in the right direction.
Lora Meisner of the citizen group Comprehensive Plan Supporters is not so sure. “You can make the pipes larger but until you turn off the faucet of water i.e. requiring 100% storm water retention on any new development, the city will still be condemning residents to millions of dollars in property damage, the health risks of polluted flood water and high flood insurance rates, all due to frequent flooding.”
Shepard, though he hasn’t studied the decision, is cautiously optimistic. He echoes the City Council’s sense of a slight improvement. Shepard continues to believe that the Master Plan both Salem’s Public Works Department and Planning Commission use is inadequate, that creek banks desperately need measuring and that building of any kind continues to leave the area with fewer permeable areas.
But he feels the larger pipes the City Council mandated on August 13 mean “a nice start.”