LA CENTER — It has been one year since a powerful December storm whipped through Clark County, causing tornadoes in Battle Ground, landslides in Hazel Dell and completely washed out a private road leading into a rural La Center housing development.
Jeff Locke remembers the December 2015 storm well, even though he wasn’t anywhere near his home inside the La Center Timber Creek Estates subdivision when the storm hit on Dec. 8, 2015. Instead, Locke was on a business trip in California. But he remembers worrying when his wife, Crystal, called him with the news: a huge piece of Northeast 316th Street, the only road leading into and out of the rural Timber Creek Estates development, had been completely destroyed during the storm and six of the subdivision’s 12 households — including the Lockes — were effectively cut off from the rest of the county, trapped on their side of subdivision by a flooded and raging Mason Creek.
Locke took the first flight home from California and soon realized that he was the only one of his neighbors who had a car on the “other” side of the creek. In those early days after the road washed away, the Timber Creek neighbors came together as a community — walking more than one-half mile through the woods to get to Locke’s car to make grocery runs and making sure that ill and elderly neighbors had everything they needed to stay safe, warm and well-fed.
Over the course of the next week, the neighbors created a temporary footbridge to shuttle supplies into the development. Many borrowed or rented cars to keep on one side of the washed-out culvert and then parked their own vehicles on the other side.
“There were a lot of things we had taken for granted,” Locke says. “Like, taking garbage from the top of the road down and across the footbridge. That wasn’t easy. And we worried about what would happen if there was a fire because the fire trucks couldn’t get to us … and even if they could, we had a temporary water solution, so they wouldn’t have been able to use the fire hydrants.”
For nine months, the Timber Creek Estates neighbors made their temporary footbridge work for them. Meanwhile, the entire development had to come up with a plan for a new bridge that would be sturdy enough to withstand future storms, while still meeting the strict requirements imposed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. And, because the road was part of a private development, the homeowners had to pay for it.
The GoFundMe site, which raised more than $7,000 to help the homeowners, was critical in the early days, Locke says.
“The generosity was just amazing. And that money really helped us get started,” he explains. “We had some initial engineering costs we hadn’t expected and we used the (GoFundMe) money to pay for those things that came up before we had to pile our money in. It was really helpful.”
Although $200,000 is nothing to scoff at, Locke says the final costs for the new, 44-feet-wide bridge could have been double that amount if not for more generosity from family and friends of the Timber Creek Estates residents — one family member was an engineer who reduced his fees to help the neighbors plan their bridge; another resident had a connection with a steel manufacturer that got the development a great deal on steel beams; and yet another person had a family member who was in the construction business and also offered to work for a much-reduced rate.
“If we were paying market rate, this probably would have cost us $400,000 or $450,000,” Locke says. “Networking and negotiating really helped us out.”
Now that the bridge is up and the development is waiting on just one final piece of the puzzle — for Clark County to sign off on the bridge permit — Locke says he and his neighbors can finally breathe a little easier: “We were getting a little worried, thinking about going through another winter without it.”
Reflecting on the yearlong process, Locke says he’s learned way more than he wanted to about jumping through the government permitting process.
“I didn’t realize just how much red tape there would be and how many people would need to sign off on this,” Locke says. “It was a really time-consuming process.”
For other people living in subdivisions with private roads — especially roads like Northeast 316th, which cross bodies of water — Locke has a message.
“The ironic thing is that, about three months before this happened, the homeowners were talking, saying we needed to improve our culvert because it was 30 years old and we needed to reinforce it. What we learned later is that there are programs in place to help private landowners maintain and update these types of (roads and bridges), but there is no money to help you once it goes out completely,” Locke says. “People should be prepared for something like this and get ahead of the problems.”