Flash floods are common in the arid and semi-arid Western United States. Heppner, located in the Oregon high desert country is no exception. Four streams converge in Heppner: From the South of Heppner flowing North are Willow Creek, Balm Fork, and Shobe Creek. Northeast of Heppner is Hinton Creek which flows in a Northwest direction. Willow Creek and Balm Fork flow directly into the Willow Creek Reservoir behind the dam. Hinton and Shobe Creeks flow unfettered through the downtown; both join Willow Creek.
The Dam was completed in 1983, creating the Willow Creek Reservoir. The famous flood of 1903 and other flash floods through the years served as motivation for the building of the dam. With the dam in place, flow of the Willow and Balm Fork Creeks is controlled. However, Shobe and Hinton Creek’s flow are not. A large portion of downtown Heppner lies directly in the path (and flood plain) of Willow, Shobe, and Hinton Creeks.
FLOODING – IS THERE A PLAN?
Yes, the weather and creek flows are monitored by the Morrow County Emergency Operations Center in Heppner. When flooding is imminent an alarm operated by the Army Corps of Engineers sounds in Heppner. Residents living in the flood plain are expected to seek shelter in one of four locations on high ground: the Columbia Basin Electric Co-op office, Heppner High School, and the Corps of Engineers office at the entrance to Lakeview Heights. These shelters will be manned to provide shelter, water, and food. Residents of the St. Patrick’s Senior Center Apartments will be moved to the upper floor of the apartment building.
Once the flooding has ended, rebuilding/cleanup is usually the next step. Hence, the need for the National Flood Plain Insurance Program.
THE NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM AND YOU.
Most homeowners are aware that banks and other lending institutes require them to purchase flood insurance if their residence is located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), i.e., 100-year flood plain area. What most people are unaware of is that nearly one-fourth of the properties damaged by flooding lie outside of an SFHA. It just might be a good investment to have flood insurance even if you are not required to purchase it.
BUILDING AND REBUILDING IN AN SFHA.
As you might suspect, new construction in an SFHA is generally discouraged and special permits are required. When construction is permitted, very rigorous and detailed requirements are necessary. If a building is damaged so that more than 50 percent of the building must be rebuilt, and the building is located in an SFHA, it too must adhere to these requirements.
To determine if a building or other structure is located in an SFHA, please come to City Hall and we will inspect the Flood Insurance Rate Maps provided by FEMA with you to make a determination.
You can also pick up your zoning permit applications at City Hall. You must have an approved zoning permit or you normally will not be able to obtain a building permit. Please call us at 541-676-9618, or visit City Hall at 111 N. Main Street if you have questions.
We hope that this information is a helpful reminder of the special elements placed on those dwellings in a flood plain. At the Heppner branch of the Oregon Trail Library, 444 N. Main Street, you will find County-wide final D-FIRM #41049C. It contains Heppner panels 140175, 0827/0831 and 0835. It also contains the Flood Insurance Study #41049CV000A. These CD’s are available for the public to view.
ORS 468.700 and OAR 164.775: It is against the law to pollute streams. This includes chemicals, the dumping of debris, etc. Keep our waters clean!