If you’ve been driving along Highway 101 just south of Seaside and are wondering what all the excavation is about, know that you are witnessing a historic floodplain restoration project in action. North Coast Land Conservancy is allowing a berm that was built along the Necanicum River to be removed so that the seasonal high waters of the river will once again move out over the historic floodplain that makes up much of NCLC’s 364-acre Circle Creek Habitat Reserve.
In recent decades, much of this seasonal water was constrained by the berm and flowed instead out over Highway 101, causing dangerous driving conditions, delays, and road closures. Funding from the Oregon Department of Transportation has made this unique hybrid floodplain restoration-highway flooding resolution project possible.
“The berm removal is going remarkably well,” said wetland ecology consultant and fomer NCLC board member Doug Ray. “In just the first six days over 1,300 feet of berm was completley gone!” Ray is representing NCLC at the project site to ensure that the land trust’s ecological goals are being met during this delicate (de)construction project.
Project contractors from Henderson Land Services are using excavators to remove specific sections of the berm to allow waters to flow out onto the floodplain while leaving sections of mature riparian trees and shrubs intact. In a creative twist, what would be a spoils pile for another project is being used to jump start a new wetland ecosystem in the old pasture.
Under Ray’s guidance, contractors are carefully digging out clumps of mature riparian shrubs such as willow and red elderberry and transplanting them out into holes dug into the pasture where they can re-establish themselves.
“It will take years for the 1-gallon native plants we’ll be planting to reach that size,” observes Ray. “These islands of mature shrubs will be providing food and habitat for birds and insects right away. Purchasing plants this size would be ridiculously expensive, so reusing what would otherwise have to be hauled off-site and dumped just makes sense.”
In addition to saving clumps of native shrubs for re-planting, Ray has also been able to provide strategic guidance that allows contractors to safely leave in place some of the mature alder and willow clumps along the river’s edge.
NCLC Stewardship Director Melissa Reich couldn’t be more please with how work is progressing. “It feels great to have this project underway, and to see how well it’s all going. This is a huge step toward establishing a functioning Necanicum River floodplain again.”
As much as everyone at NCLC is enjoying the fairly warm, sunny summer we’re experiencing on the north Oregon coast, we’re all secretly looking forward to that first big rain of the season, and getting to watch the Necanicum River reconnect with its floodplain for the first time in decades.