Thunderheads loomed over the Cascades on an otherwise blue-sky day in Gates and Mill City, a reminder of the devastating September 2020 wildfires.
The cities are still rebuilding. New homes are going up among blackened trees and power tools echo in the distance, drowned out by the murmur of the river.
On Friday, May 19, members of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission toured the canyon. They got an update from the North Santiam Watershed Council on water quality impacts, heard about local fire recovery and rebuilding efforts, and received an overview from Marion County and Mill City officials on plans for wastewater treatment projects.
EQC Chair Kathleen George said venturing into the field allowed the commissioners to hear directly from people whose lives were changed by the fires. “The best briefing in the world couldn’t make up for the opportunity to meet people in their home,” she said at the stop in Gates.
DEQ and the EQC are engaging with local community organizations rebuilding of Gates and Mill City, as well as Detroit and Idanha, by assisting with wastewater treatment permitting and providing information on the Three Basin Rule. The rule protects drinking water sources by providing groundwater protections and limiting pollution discharges in the North Santiam, McKenzie and Clackamas basins.
A mid-August thunderstorm sparked the Beachie Creek Fire in 2020. Then a powerful windstorm on Sept. 7, 2020, with gusts that blew down the canyon, pushed fire into Gates, Mill City, Detroit and Idanha. The huge fire was just one of five to destroy homes and infrastructure, such as wastewater systems, around Oregon in the historic event.
Visiting the canyon was invaluable because it put planning and policy discussions into context, said EQC Vice-chair Sam Baraso.
“The best briefing in the world couldn’t make up for the opportunity to meet people in their home,” she said at the stop in Gates.EQC Chair Kathleen George
The North Santiam Canyon tour started at Packsaddle Park along the North Santiam River, wound to the Gates Fire Hall and ended at the Mill City Wastewater system.
Visiting the canyon was invaluable because it put planning and policy discussions into context, said EQC Vice-chair Sam Baraso. Like George, he said visiting the area provided context that you wouldn’t find in a briefing. “It tells a bigger story,” he said.
Kevin Dial, with Santiam Recovery, a group helping guide rebuilding in the North Santiam Canyon, was was among the speakers who presented to the EQC during the tour. Rebuilding starts with proper planning and permitting, he said.
“I am very clear that I want to do this correctly,” Dial said.
–Dylan Darling, public affairs specialist