As Gale Creek rushed over its banks in Wilkeson during the recent steady rains, it worked its way across Wilkeson Elementary School’s playground, encroached on one of the historical school’s portable buildings, surrounded Dennis and Sandi Smith’s home and then rushed across state Route 165 into oncoming traffic.
Bystanders watched in wonder Nov. 12 and drivers on their way home stopped to take photographs as the afternoon daylight started to dim.
“Being close to a creek we expect some flooding,” said Dennis Smith, who at 5-foot-10 was up to his knees in water in his driveway. He and his wife Sandi bought the 4.8 acres on Fir Street eight years ago and haven’t seen flooding like this since 2006.
The difference this time – it happened faster with more water.
“I was surprised at noon there was this much water on the playground,” White River School District facilities and transportation services director Rick LaBoyne said during a conversation at the White River School Board’s meeting that night. “It’s not all that different than what we went through two years ago, just speeded up.”
The playground saw some submerging and a portable was threatened, but otherwise it wasn’t too bad.
“A school that’s been there that long has weathered worse,” he said. The sandstone building was built in 1912.
The water had not entered the Smith’s home, but they did have six inches of it in their shop. The rush of water was carving ruts in their recently graveled driveway. In 2006, Dennis Smith estimates he lost about one-third to one-half of an acre to the erosion.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like now,” he said when the water subsides. “It’s worse than its ever been and it was an eye-opener in 2006 when the water went down.”
Dennis Smith said the same log jam, in a different location, is the root of the flooding.
In 2006, he said, the logs were blocking the creek upstream and broke free only to lodge themselves in the curve near his home and the school. He is worried if that pile of debris breaks free again it could take out the bridge on state Route 165 that connects Carbonado with Wilkeson or the bridge downstream that allows Wilkeson officials access to the town’s watershed.
Smith said he talked with Pierce County officials in 2006 and was bounced around to enough people and departments that he became frustrated. He is starting his effort again. As a member of the Wilkeson Town Council, he’s trying to find the right contact to get it cleared out.
“Pierce County Emergency Management is putting together a plan,” he said, and maybe, “there’s something in the future to deal with debris. We’d like to have the jam removed.”
Reach Brenda Sexton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8206.