February 27, 2014 | Portland Tribune-- John E. “Bud” Rice thinks Portland did a pretty good job responding to the early February winter storms.
Of course, Rice is 90 and remembers when the city only had three or four snow plows. A retired city maintenance supervisor, he used to drive one of them whenever more than a couple of inches of snow fell in town. Until then, city officials figured Portlanders could get around OK with chains on their cars.
“People were pretty self-reliant back then,” says Rice, who started working for the city as an equipment operator for what was then the Street Cleaning Bureau in 1947.
The city’s plowing priorities were equally limited back then.
“We did the bridges first, then the streets to the hospitals, then the hills,” says Rice, who remembers his truck didn’t have any heat, and he had to stop and physically shovel sand out of the back as he drove his routes.
Portland’s storm response is a lot larger now. The Portland Bureau of Transportation — which absorbed the street cleaning bureau many years ago — has more than 50 vehicles that can be fitted with plows. Workers now concentrate on 518 miles of priority streets, including major arterials that support some of TriMet’s busiest bus lines.
And more agencies respond to storms now, too. This year the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue searched for vulnerable homeless people living on the streets and brought them to shelters.
Some things haven’t changed, though. The city still does not plow residential streets, a decision Rice supports.
“If you plow a residential street, you create a berm of snow along both sides that traps cars and blocks driveways. People don’t like that,” Rice says.
And Portland still does not use salt to melt snow and ice. Rice still remembers when former Public Works Commissioner William Bowes banned it in the 1950s. At the time, Bowes, who served on the council from 1939 to 1969, was worried about the damage salt does to cars. Today, city leaders are more worried about its harm to the environment.
Preparing for the Big One
Despite the problems caused by the early February storms, city Commissioner Steve Novick says he is much more worried about what will happen when a major earthquake hits the region. Portland is in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an active earthquake area that historically has seen big quakes about every 400 years. Oregon’s last major earthquake occurred in January of 1700.
Speaking before the Portland Business Alliance on Feb. 19, Novick listed the potential major problems that could occur, including completely impassible roads and bridges, the loss of Bull Run water to the west side of the city, and the collapse of the large fuel storage tanks along the Willamette River in Linton.
“What I really worry about is having no fuel to get around and drive the economy, in addition to the environmental damage,” Novick said.
Novick was appearing on a panel on emergency preparedness at the PBA’s monthly breakfast forum. Appearing with him was READ FULL ARTICLE