By Laura Swanson
The City of Wheeler was particularly hard hit by the December storms. The extraordinary amount of rain caused landslides, flooding of the town’s post office, stormwater runoff and drainage in many downtown businesses. The combination of flooding and landslides comprised the City’s water system causing turbidity, and a boil water order was issued on December 10th. In addition, the slide and road closure just south of Wheeler on Hwy. 101 provided additional challenges to the community.
“The City staff worked in concert with Wheeler residents/volunteers throughout the first two nights by checking and clearing drains to reduce and eliminate flooding on a 24 hour basis, at times putting themselves in harm’s way to relieve the flooding in downtown,” said city manager Geoff Wullschlager. “This 24 hour watch began on December 8 and continued through December 12. The result was two events were flood waters receded in the downtown area, directly attributable to vigilant and consistent work of volunteers and City staff.” Hemlock Street was repaired as of December 10th with the assistance of Longfellow Construction and Excavation and the hazard mitigated. The City has kept a 24 hour plan in place for this drainage. The City staff along with the Mayor, and Council Members kept a 24 hour monitoring and response in place. In addition, to the best of my knowledge, the City of Wheeler was the first municipality in the County to declare an emergency, and seek outside assistance from County and State resources. Wheeler City Hall was designated as an Emergency Operations Center, and the Mayor designated the City Manager as the Emergency Outreach Coordinator.
Through diligent, above-and-beyond efforts from many residents and volunteers, the boil water order was lifted on Sunday December 13th. Sheldon Oil and Pepsi of Portland brought truckloads of water, which are available to all residents of the Nehalem Valley. “If you used your emergency stores of water during the flood before you go buy more stop by Wheeler City Hall and pick some up for free,” said Mayor Stevie Burden. “We are able to give water to any of our North County neighbors through a very generous donation from Sheldon Oil and Pepsi Portland. We have individual bottles and gallons while the supply lasts.”
The mayor continued, “Lastly let me say that I am truly humbled and immensely appreciative of our Nehalem Valley Community and our culture of volunteerism. The outpouring of help was overwhelming from our three little villages in the last week. Well done everyone! You all rock my world!” It should be noted that mayor and council members where often doing the late night checks of stormwater drains. After three days, the mayor sent city staff home, and the mayor and city councilors Jim King were out checking and clearing drains at midnight for days following the initial storm. There are kudos and acknowledgements to the City of Wheeler staff — Geoff Wullschlager, city manager, 36+ hours; Lori Reiger, administrative assistant and Joe Valkenberg; Wheeler City Councilors; County Sheriff deputies Dean Burdick and Chuck Reeder; Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue; Nehalem Bay Wasterwater, and all the volunteers that helped in so many ways – Brent Anctil, Bill Mullen, Sandy and Kim Douma, Judy Stone, Ken and Rebecca Painter, Greg Mott, John Longfellow, Dick Ewan, Mike Lehman, Grant Wood, Heidi Wilcox-Siglin, Mike Sheldon, Alan Burden, Chung and Judy Lee; the Emergency Volunteer Corps, John Tommes, Mary Wilcox, Jan Bell, Terri Michelsen, Dave Dillon, Bruce Maxwell, Bill and Karen Harshberger, Linda Kozlowski, Paula Peek, Sue Remy, Paul Knight, Betsy Chase, and Phil Ordway.
The Wheeler Post Office remains closed as repairs are made and the hope is to reopen the post office after the first of the year according to post office representatives. Wheeler residents are receiving their mail at the Nehalem post office in the interim. The repairs to Hwy. 101 at milepost 48 has caused water line breaks to Wheeler residents along the waterfront, and assessments by ODOT for a long-term fix have been completed and a series of steel girders will assist to stabilize and reinforce the area. One lane of the road remains open with 24/7 flaggers controlling traffic. “We are into recovery mode now, “ said Mayor Burden. “This series of storms and events is a reminder to everyone that we need to be prepared to be isolated, and it is up to each of us to be self sufficient, but also to take care of one another.”
By Laura Swanson