PBOT wants $12K for drones to assess storm damages

Landslides, sinkholes currently difficult for PBOT crews to assess from different angles

FILE - In this April 14, 2016 file photo, a drone captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Bureau of Transportation is asking for thousands of dollars to purchase drones that officials say will help them assess damages left by landslides and sinkholes that develop during adverse weather conditions.

Just this past weekend, heavy rains that pounded the region caused several landslides, sinkholes and left many areas severely flooded.

A landslide on Skyline Boulevard in Northwest Portland left behind 200 cubic yards of mud and debris. Authorities say it will take days to stabilize the hillside.

“It’s really stunning,” Dylan Rivera with PBOT said. “In just trying to take a picture of it, it’s hard to believe there’s a road under this much debris.”

PBOT’s John Brady tells KOIN 6 News it’s hard to inspect landslides from top to bottom. Having a drone would allow them to capture damages from all angles.

SE Pipeline Road in Gresham was flooded Sunday, February 5, 2017. (KOIN)
A sinkhole opened on flooded SE Pipeline Road in Gresham Sunday, February 5, 2017. (KOIN)

“It’s one of the things that’s typically hard about landslides is it’s hard to inspect them,” Brady said. “They’re often in very steep places. We can see them from one vantage point or the other, but we really need to do both.”

As part of its $2.8 million budget request for 2017-2018, PBOT will ask the Portland City Council for $6,000 for a professional-grade drone, $1,500 for an amateur drone and costs for cameras, training and certification so officials can safely fly them over damage areas after major rain and snow events.

The total cost of the drones? $12,000.

Portland State University professor and geologist Steve Burns says drones can be especially useful when assessing floods and sinkholes.

“It allows us to go to places that we have not been able to go to in the past in order to make a good analysis,” Burns said. “A lot of times you can’t get out to an area, you don’t know how extensive it is, especially if there are no houses that are very close.”

The public will be able to weigh in on the topic during city budget hearings in April. The Portland City Council will vote on PBOT’s proposed budget in June.