Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dangerous Bridges and Dancing Tumbleweeds

Yesterday afternoon my editor decided we need some good photos of the flooding in the area...

We've been watching the snowpack carefully. After the drought last summer, in which many crops were lost and others weren't even planted, people in this area are worried that it might happen again. Last summer, there was simply no snow in the passes in February. It's much better this year... there's actually snow in the passes, but there's always a danger that early warming will wash away the snowpack and we'll be in the same position as last year.

Of course, if the snowpack melts off, it's a double-whammy. Not only will the summer be dry in the irrigated desert we live in, but the runoff from the water will cause flooding on local rivers.

I'm thinking you can guess, based on my first sentence, what is happening.

Now, it's not totally terrible. It's not all melting off, just the lower elevations. So it's not as bad as last year yet. But the flooding is still impressive and somewhat damaging.

So I headed out to two particular places to get photos. One was a park in Granger that flood at the slightest rise in river levels. It's always good for a photo, but people in the know recognize that a flood photo of Hisey Park isn't really all that telling. The second photo I was asked to take was of a bridge that had washed out. At least, that's the report we'd gotten on the police scanner yesterday morning.

So I headed out toward Granger from Sunnyside on I-82, and the sky was threatening. Not just threatening, there were "rolls" of thunder clouds overhead and as the first one rolled over me, the wind kicked up. The car in front of me suddenly swerved and I saw a whole bunch of tumbleweeds on the freeway. They were dancing. I'm not exaggerating. The wind picked them up, and they were just bouncing along the roadway. Tiny ones, big ones... the car in front of me was swerving around the huge ones and hitting the smaller ones. I have never in my life wished for a dashcam as much as at that moment. It was truly amazing-looking.

If the dancing tumbleweeds wasn't enough, the rain then hit. The road was completely dry and stayed that way. The rain was being driven sideways into my windshield and up. I couldn't even get the wipers to work because the wind was so strong... but I didn't need them because the wind was so strong. The car was bucking in the wind as well. I found myself playing dodge-ems around the huge tumbleweeds and watched a couple of cars behind me doing the same. The smaller ones made a *pok!* sound at they hit my car and shattered.

It's not a long trip to Hisey Park, and I got there fairly quickly after the fun of the dancing tumbleweeds. As I pulled up into the parking area, I noticed two other cars there. One took off as soon as I arrived, and the other pulled forward, as if to get away from me. I really wonder what people at the park are doing, because there is ALWAYS a couple of cars parked there. In any case, I waited in my car as a hail storm passed overhead, then climbed out into the heavy rain and took some photos of Hisey Lake, as it was not a park at all. You couldn't see the walking path at all, and the amphitheater was totally flooded. The photo will appear in Monday's paper and online Monday night.

I noticed as I walked across the grass to take the photo that there was a whole lot of dog poop on the ground. Not just a little, but literally unavoidable mummified (in most cases) poop all over the grass. I keep trying to think of what else it might have been, but it sure looked like poop to me.

Back to my car, soaking wet, I headed over to city hall to introduce myself to the clerks and say hello. I gave them my card and said if there is any news they want to get out to the public to feel free to call us. Then I headed to the washed out bridge.

The bridge was right off Exit 52, literally within sight of the on-ramps. I pulled up and there were a couple of trucks already parked there. I pulled on my "MEDIA" reflective vest and walked over to chat. One was checking the power lines strung across the bridge, the other was checking out the gas line. I said I was going to take photos for the paper, and they shrugged. Both of them took off fairly quickly, but I wandered around the area trying to see the hole and the wash out. I ended up explaining to a number of people who were trying to take the bridge that it was closed - there were cement blocks on each end and barriers up and signs... but some people just need a human to tell them.

Finally, since I couldn't see any sign of the wash out from the Zillah side of the bridge, I walked across it to find the damage. The bridge was solid, wet from the recent storm, but there was nothing wrong with it at all. Until I got to the far side, where the Yakima River was rushing in its channel. One of the people I chatted with on the Zillah side told me the bridge usually goes over quite a bit of dry land before it goes over the river itself, and the area of faster water flow was where the river usually goes.

In any case, I got to the other side and found danger signs and caution tape blocking my path, but I could see the hole. I took some photos, but I wasn't satisfied with them, so I crossed the tape and walked up to the hole... it was impressive. I could see the flood waters tearing at the foundation of the bridge and the hole itself was a few feet into the roadway and went straight down into the water. The damage looked severe... the whole foundation on that side is going to have to be rebuilt/reinforced to make the bridge sturdy again.

After taking a LOT of photos, I headed back to my car, limping a little from my heelspur, which has been acting up again. I talked to a few more people at the other side of the bridge, including a cop and a Yakama Nation officer. Then I headed back to the office to show off the damage photos to my co-workers.

Once again I'm reminded that the infrastructure of this nation is literally falling apart, and nobody seems to have the political will to put the money where it's needed most. Not only would a serious infrastructure drive improve road safety and boost the economy, it would also put thousands of people to work, if not millions. The fact that we are watching as bridge after bridge fails, some of them taking lives as they collapse, and no major effort has gone to fixing the problem shows that our priorities are skewed. All the businesses that rely on shipping... all the people who need to travel for work... all the communications cables that need replacing... it's all going to fall apart. Then where will we be?