VIPs gather for Southern Flow Corridor ribbon cutting

Dozens of dignitaries, elected officials, farmers and environmentalists turned out for a highly anticipated Oregon Solutions Southern Flow Corridor (SFC) Project ribbon cutting at the Tillamook Bay estuary, Dec. 2.

By Ann Powers

Nearly 20 years in the making, the more than 500-acre tidal wetland restoration has culminated in the reconnection of channels to river systems, widespread flood reduction and abundant recreational opportunities, according to project officials.

“One of the benefits of the completed project is the collection of even more sediment in this area during flooding events,” said Paul Levesque, SFC Project Manager. “Removal of… legacy levees will not only reconnect 521 acres to the flood plain, but will also reopen about 14 miles of ancient channels that will provide critical over wintering habit for juvenile coho salmon. Substantial flood reduction benefits over a 3,000-acre area will also result from the levee breaching.”

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) does the honors at a Sothern Flow Corridor Project ribbon cutting ceremony Dec. 2, along with Tillamook County Commissioner Mark Labhart (far left), Tillamook County Farm Bureau’s Chad Allen and Rep. Deb Boone (D-Cannon Beach.) Photo by Ann Powers

State Rep. Deb Boone (D-Cannon Beach), Tillamook County Commissioner Mark Labhart, Tillamook County Farm Bureau’s Chad Allen and state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) were some of those in attendance.

“Wow… there were a few times that I thought we would not be standing out here,” said Johnson, who helped with the ribbon-cutting honors. “We had more than a few near-death experiences with this project.”

Johnson continued by thanking a long-list of SFC supporters.

“So, I’ve done a fairly dangerous thing by picking out a few people in an assembly of folks whose fingerprints are all over this project,” she said. “Last but not least, the best partner a person could’ve had in making this work – Commissioner Mark Labhart.”

The SFC Project covers the area directly south of Rosenberg Builder’s Supply at Hoquarton Slough and south to Dougherty Slough, as well as west along both sloughs to Tillamook Bay. Its purpose is to reduce life-threatening risks from floods, decrease flood damages to property and other financial losses, contribute to the recovery of federally listed Oregon Coast coho salmon, and restore habitat for other native fish and wildlife species.

Allen, who is also a longtime local dairy farmer, added the project’s model is important for the sustainability of all the natural resources in the community.

“What I saw here is the opportunity to enhance the agricultural improvements on the adjacent lands in this project and I saw that was critical to all the properties on the other side of this,” he said. “We can’t understate the benefits that we see in the model. It’s important… in the respect we have for our dairy community and also the restoration components of this that we could come up with a compatible design that met the benefits of both.”

Labhart noted collaboration through the Oregon Solutions Consortium was key in the SFC’s success. Oregon Solutions is composed of local and state government agencies and private citizens.

The consortium worked with FEMA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA to gain approval and funding for the SFC Project.

Some of the major contributors included:

  • FEMA – $3,225,000;
  • Oregon State Lottery Bonds – $1,075,000;
  • NOAA – $2,700,000;
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – $822,618;
  • Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board – $1,522,144;
  • Loren Parks Foundation – $250,000;
  • Oregon Business Development Department – $1,050,974

“None of these kind of projects are ever easy – particularly when there’s so much involved and so much emotion,” Labhart explained. “If it wasn’t for Sen. Johnson, who started this effort at the Oregon Solutions at the Governor’s Office to bring us all to the table, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

And, after standing in the rain and cold for about an hour, a warm and dry bus shuttled attendees over to a warm and dry Coliseum Movie Theatre – Tillamook for a documentary on the SFC Project.