Excerpt from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers History of the Walla Walla District, Part II, 1970-1975, pp. 164-169
The movement of five towns, l40 miles of railroad, 87 miles of roads, and many people with firmly established daily lives requires patience, understanding, discussions aplenty, negotiations, and in some cases legal proceedings. Behind it all are endless searching of records studies, evaluation of property conditions, and careful documentation. The real estate transactions for the entire John Day project required the procurement of 58,540 acres of land and appurtenances at a cost of $12 million. The process of obtaining rights-of-way starts as soon as the delineation of project needs can be made and usually carries beyond the completion of work. The relocation costs for the railroads, highways, utilities, and communities affected by the reservoir amounted to $165 million of the total dam cost of $461 million.
Work on relocations was initiated by the first contract awarded in 1958 and continued until the summer of 1968. Ten major contracts were utilized for moving the 80 miles of railroad on the north shore (Spokane, Portland & Seattle). When the rail was laid on the new alignment, new welding techniques were employed, with the rail sections welded at a central location into lengths of 1,400 feet and transported to the site. The entire 80 miles of new track were constructed as a continuous welded rail operation. The new line was occupied in June 1967.
The relocation of the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad on the south shore was complicated by the steep terrain of the canyon walls and the necessity of finding space not only for it, but for Interstate Highway 80N in sections of the canyon. In some places the new routes, because of high talus slopes and rock cliffs, overlapped the existing old roads, necessitating numerous "shooflies". This relocation started in 1961 and was accomplished in three major stages. The 60 miles of railroad and 34 miles of interstate highway 80N were complete by the summer of 1967. Congress had already passed the Interstate Highway Act which changed the classification of the existing Highway 30 and, prior to the completion of relocation negotiations with Oregon State, had passed a bill which made projects similar to John Day responsible for relocation of highways to present standards for existing traffic. This dictated a combination of two-and four-lane construction depending upon grade and access. The 'added cost for completing the highway to four-lane interstate standards was assumed by the State of Oregon. About 40 miles of Washington State Highway No. l~ was similarly relocated along the north shore parallel to the SP&S rail line and completed late in 1965.
The relocation of rail and highway facilities encountered two spectacular disasters during the process, both because of floods. A very unusual sequence of weather conditions caused major flooding and damage on 22 and 23 December l964, not only in the numerous minor tributaries and normally dry canyons and draws along the John Day reservoir area, but also in contiguous areas including the entire John Day River Basin. Steep water courses draining relatively small areas averaging three to eight miles in length discharge into the Columbia River along both the north and south shores. The design discharges for the numerous bridges and culverts in the relocation work were based on 50-year rainstorms combined with snowmelt. One such canyon (Alder Creek) where the railroad and highway structures over it were designed for 6,500 cfs carried an estimated 17,700 cfs.
Considerable repair work was required throughout the reservoir area and design discharges were re-evaluated. Even the contractor and Corps headquarters at Rufus, Oregon, just downstream of the dam were not exempt. Erosion, debris, and deposition created havoc in this small community and construction work on the dam was halted for several days because workers were unable to get to work. As discussed briefly in Part I of this history when discussing the project, the second and most serious disaster as a result of the same flood was the failure of the foundation under one bridge pier of the new Interstate 80N bridge over the mouth of John Day River just two miles upstream of the dam. Excessive flood flows undercut the pier, causing the loss of two deck spans then high above the natural river. One man was killed when he and his car went down with the bridge, and later a car ran the highway barricade and plunged off the bridge, killing two men. For the traffic on the freeway, it was fortunate that the old lower level highway bridge had not been destroyed and a temporary detour was utilized for several months until the spans could be replaced.
The reservoir requirements dictated that portions or all of four towns be relocated, complete with community services such as schools, city hall, and utilities, with full consideration of all the attitudes and desires of the affected people. These were Arlington., Boardman, and Umatilla, Oregon, and Roosevelt, Washington. Of these, Arlington received the greatest impact. Located on the Columbia in a canyon at the mouth of China Creek, the business district occupied most of the limited canyon bottom with the residential area spreading to the steep hillsides The John Day reservoir and relocation of the railroad and highway land-ward would flood or eliminate about 90 percent of the business area and approximately 25 percent of the residential area, including the school. Several schemes to provide either protection or reconstruction were studied and presented to the residents of the community for their recommendations. One even proposed to move the entire community out of the valley and onto benchlands to the west. Their preference was to relocate the homes and school on higher surrounding ground, but maintain the central business area in approximately its original location.
To effect the business relocation an eight-square-block area near the southerly or upper limit of flooding which had been partly business and partially residential was selected and cleared of buildings A compacted fill was then constructed to raise the new business area out of the backwater zone. In order to minimize settlement after the pool was created, a unique system of consolidation was resorted to. The natural dry silts in the canyon floor were saturated through a system of wells into which was pumped river water. This saturation was maintained during the placing of up to 30 feet of gravel fill, and for a short time afterward. Settlement since filling the reservoir has been negligible. This procedure was an innovative method of insuring a solid foundation for the community, wherein the saturation of a porous silt soil, with a high fill superimposed on top, has been utilized to provide a stable base upon which to build.
One of the first steps to vacating the portion of Arlington to be flooded was replacement of the grade school building, a typical school building of the turn of the century in the older section of the community The new school site was selected on the benchland above the town and a modern one story building and playfield designed. Congress in 1958 passed a new law providing that, for relocation work such as this, when necessary because of a Federal project, the replacement of public facilities, roads, public buildings and schools would be to modern standards for the current use, not based upon an appraised present value. The contract for the new school was let in May 1960 and occupied in the winter of 1961-62.
In a similar manner, new schools were built for the community of Roosevelt, Washington, across the river from Arlington and also at Boardman, Oregon. Subsequently, at Arlington, a new city hall and sewage disposal plant were built and considerable work done on drainage and water supply, including lining of China Creek which had been an intermittent flood problem. While the upheaval at Arlington was particularly difficult in keeping a going community in operation during the process, as well as being nostalgically painful, the changes have resulted in modern new buildings in the business district, new streets, new public utilities, new city hall, new school, and a new port and recreation facilities on the new lake. About $3 ½ million of Federal monies were spent at Arlington in the process.