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Bend Underpass Flood Fix Sparks Biz Worries

By Joe Burns
Published On: Sep 15 2011 12:24:32 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 15 2011 11:18:26 AM CDT
BEND, Ore. -

When it rains hard, the Third Street underpass in Bend often floods and causes a lot of problems, including stopping cars from getting through. Now the city has come up with a plan to deal with it, but it's not sitting well with everyone.

The project is supposed to begin next summer, a crucial time of year for area businesses. While Wednesday night's City Hall community meeting was supposed to be about the underpass water system ---it quickly became about how construction was going to affect business.

A lot of traffic flows through the Third Street underpass on any given day. Some estimates put it at around 20,000 cars or more. But it is known for more than just traffic.

"Ordinarily, I would go through a pretty detailed engineering description of the problem, but I got lucky tonight -- this was pretty easy. The Third Street underpass floods when it rains," said city worker Scott Gilliespie.

Pumps have been added over the years to try to keep up with the occasional, sudden heavy downpours, but they don't always do the job.

Gillespie talked to community members at a meeting to share the city's preliminary plans to stop the flooding problem.

Century West Engineering designed a plan that uses a series of vegetation areas called swales to basically absorb all the rainwater and prevent it from building up.

The project itself is funded by storm water utility fees.

But it wasn't the monetary cost or other aspects of the planned fix that brought many to the meeting. It's a six-week detour around their businesses, planned next summer at the height of the tourist season, that has them very worried.

"The small businesses along Third street that you are planning on rerouting around, you're going to literally shut those people down, do you guys know that?" said one concerned business owner.

The underpass would be out of commission for up to six weeks --- between July 4th and when schools start.

"You're taking six weeks out of the heart of our business season that gets us through the winter and everything else," said the concerned business owner.

City Councilor Mark Capell attended the meeting -- not as a councilor, but as a business owner.

"If you close the underpass for 24 hours a day for six weeks, there's going to be a lot of businesses that are really badly hurt," Capell told city staff.

Capell advised businesses that will be affected to form a group to discuss with the city what they believe should be done.

"We need to plan it in a way so that these businesses can stay in business," Capell said.

It is an issue city officals say will be addressed.

Not all of the business owners were upset. The project would help Bonnie Stuart, who works at Details Professional Cleaning.

She's been waiting four years for this, because it will help her get a sign permit. She was denied the permit because the road in front of her business is gravel, and with the paving of the street for the project, she will be able to obtain the permit for that sign

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