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December 2006 Ask the Angry Citizen

 EDITORIAL

2006 – A YEAR END REVIEW

The Web Page

As with anything in life success or failure depends on your perspective.  From the perspective of the web page it has been a year far beyond my wildest expectations.  With over 32,500 visitors, 130,000 page views, and almost 5 gigabytes of information downloaded from the web page, WOW, what a year.  Universities, school districts, non-profit groups, federal agencies, local governments, developers, environmentalist, The New York Times, The Seattle Daily Journal, local TV stations, local newspapers, and most importantly private citizens visited the web page on a continuing basis.  It is very self gratifying to be able to provide so many with information they are seeking.  To all of you who visit this web site on a regular basis, thank you.  Thank you for making this labor of love a rewarding experience.

2006 – Flood Control

Unfortunately, from the perspective of positive movement to a comprehensive plan of flood control for Skagit Valley, 2006 can only be summed up in one word:  FAILURE.

The year began with such promise.  A new community based committee was formed, albeit based on the “frustration factor” with all local and federal agencies, called the Skagit River Impact Partnership (“SRIP”) composed primarily of diking districts and cities and towns in the lower valley.  At the time I was very honored to be appointed to this committee (See Steering Committee Minutes  ).   I am still honored to sit at the table and discuss the issues that is, when I receive the notices of the meetings, however now feel that the SRIP has lost some of its creditability.  With the Executive committee meeting in secret and making major decisions without the input of the full Steering Committee it can hardly be categorized as being representative of the entire Skagit Community.  When elected government officials (mayors, county commissioners, dike district commissioners) meet behind closed doors, it more resembles tyranny then democracy.  With a private consultant pouring gasoline on the fires of discontent between the SRIP and County government to say nothing of the relationship with the federal decision makers, the SRIP appears to moving its own agenda and not that of the people of Skagit County.  (See Executive Committee Minutes, 10/25/06; Executive Committee Minutes, 11/16/06) If the SRIP wants 2.4 million dollars of County taxpayer money (See page 4 Executive Committee Minutes, 11/16/06) to fund an Environmental Impact Statement then the SRIP has to come out of the closet and begin operating in the public view.  It must gain control of its consultant who must realize he works for the SRIP not the other way around.  The SRIP must also realize that the majority of their membership is composed by the very entities who have created the problem we face in Skagit County with respect to the flooding issue.  (See September A/C editorial “The Realities of Flood Control in Skagit County).  The SRIP’s unwillingness to admit to that as well as their unwillingness to tell the people of Skagit County what they will be getting in return for their increased tax dollars to fund their projects is not going to gain them creditability within Skagit County.  I have asked the question on at least three occasions, besides the bill, what will the people of Skagit County receive?  The lower valley will receive increased flood protection, increased property values, lower or even no flood insurance rates, and more economic development.  Will those of us in rural Skagit County receive more Sherriff deputies, better roads, more access to the river in the form of public boat ramps, fishing areas, and public parks?  To date, those questions have not only gone unanswered, but have fallen on deft ears and have been ignored.  They are making the same mistakes they made in 1979 and are living up to their slang name – The SRIPtease committee, as all they are doing is “teasing us” with the prospect of flood control.

2006 – Report Card on Flood Control

The SRIP was not the only entity that is failing the people of Skagit County.  Many others have failed through lack of cooperation and understanding, arrogance, pompous self-rightness, all causing the “frustration factor” to rise to unparalleled heights.  This would include but not be limited to USGS, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, FERC, USFW, BPA, the Tribes, and the U.S. Congress for lack of funding the necessary studies needed in order to complete the GI process.  All of this has prompted the following first annual Skagit River History.com Report Card on Flood Control.

ANNUAL REPORT CARD ON FLOOD CONTROL -- 2006

Entity

Grade

Justification

BPA

F

Trying to weasel out of their commitment to pay for flood control behind the Baker Dams is inexcusable.  Questioning the “federal interest” in maintaining flood control on the Skagit River is outrageous.  (See ISYS QUERY BPA)

Corps of Engineers

D+

The Corps has been studying the Skagit River since 1897.  Millions of dollars has been spent on studies.  The current process has been on-going since 1993.  It’s time to bring the GI study to a conclusion and quit throwing away millions of taxpayer dollars on studies.  Pick a project and build it. (See History of Flood Control Projects Studied; and Skagit River Reports)  Also, using highly questionable data for their hydraulic studies that had previously been rejected by their agency is hurting their creditability.  (See Notice and Minutes of Public Hearing 1924)

FEMA

F

Lying or “misleading” the people of Skagit County is inexcusable.  The agency, almost on a daily basis, embarrasses itself nationwide.  Only a small portion of the money FEMA has wasted on Katrina could have paid for flood control in Skagit County.  They need to clean up their act.  It’s not the BFE figures that are the main issue, but the data they are using to justify them which impacts the flood frequency curve, which impacts the size and cost of flood control projects.  (See November 2006 Angry Citizen, SRIP letter to FEMA Region X and SRIP letter to FEMA Director).

FERC

F

Approving the Baker River Relicensing process with 180 million dollars for the environment and ZERO as in nothing for flood control, is nothing short of irresponsible.  Protecting the general safety health and welfare of our citizens should be paramount in their process, it was not.  (See Final FERC Environmental Impact Statement)

SKAGIT COUNTY

C-

Some would say this grade is too generous given the millions of dollars spent with little if anything to show for it.  However, at seemingly every turn, the County was met with fierce opposition from the Federal agencies and the Tribes.  More storage behind Baker Dams, challenging the historical flood determinations, frustration with the total lack of cooperation with the past commander of Corps, being lied to by FEMA, all of these have been major obstacles to Skagit County. 

SRIP

D+

The newest player on the flood control circuit.  While in the beginning it had the right attitude and purpose, because of its secret meetings, not achieving consensus amongst its membership, not stepping up to the plate and telling the public what it plans on doing for the rest of Skagit County for the 2.4 million it wants County government to give it, having a consultant fueling the fires of discontent between County and Federal agencies, it could clearly be perceived as just a special interest group looking after their own interest and not necessarily the interest of all of the people in Skagit County.  (See Executive Committee Minutes, 10/25/06; Executive Committee Minutes, 11/16/06)

TRIBES

F

The perception that all flood control projects are detrimental to fish and fish habitat and the failure of the tribes to actively participate in the public process, choosing instead to hold secret meetings with federal agencies not subject to the FOIA requests, all the while continuing to massacre the fish runs in the Skagit River and blame everyone else justifies this grade.  (See Swinomish Tribe letter to PSE)

USFW

F

Grade justifiable due to agency’s efforts to thwart flood control behind Baker Dams and its total failure to protect fish runs over the last decade.  (See ISYS QUERY BPA)

USGS

F-

By using highly questionable data to justify historic flood flows the agency continues to lose all creditability.  Whenever history does not support an “inexact science” it should be history that prevails, not the work product of one man who never saw any of the flood events.  We should cut the pay of all USGS employees by 20 to 25%.  Maybe then they can realize the significance of “close enough for government work.”

2007—What Must Be Done

One of the things my trip to Washington DC taught me (See DC Trip Experience) was that everyone had to be on the same page or nothing is ever going to get done.  In order to reach consensus, you must first have all the people at the table and practice the art of compromise.  Currently we have neither.  What we have experienced in 2006 has been a "Its our way or the highway" approach to government.  What I strongly suggest to all entities involved is the reformation of the Skagit County Flood Risk Management Working Group.  The group was originally formed in the year 2000 and was composed of all the active players (all federal, state, tribal and local entities and citizens were represented).  The consensus that came out of that committee was to explore the creation of the Avon Bypass.  Now that it has become evident that Skagit County cannot afford the Bypass concept, the committee should be reformed to explore the two remaining options.

The only two remaining options that make any sense whatsoever are either maximizing the storage in the Nookachamp Valley or widening the three bridge corridor, getting the water past the City of Burlington and onto the floodplain before it reaches Mt. Vernon.

The Nookachamp option is already projected to cost well over a hundred million dollars just in construction costs alone.  No environmental enhancement, flowage easements, right-of-ways or buyouts have been included in this figure.  The building of this project would put thousands, if not tens of thousands, of acres of not only farmland but the best farmland in the nation at risk.  Everything from I-5 east to Sedro-Woolley would be developable.  Is that what we really want?

The three bridge corridor, widening and overtopping project has not even been considered.  Since 1921 we would only have had to let the water go twice.  Twice in 85 years seems a small price to pay for preserving the best farmland in the nation.

If 2006 was the year of confrontation then 2007 must be the year of cooperation and compromise.  Government agencies on all levels need to realize that they are public servants not public masters.  They need to become agencies of problem solvers not problem makers.  Let 2007 be the year that we come together as a community and accomplish reasonable/responsible flood control and stop making the immortal words of former county commissioner Howard Miller become the prophecy for the future when he stated in 1979, “Nothing will ever happen on flood control in Skagit County until Burlington is washed into Padilla Bay.”

May your fields be ripe and budding and your rivers full and flooding (because its the only time people pay attention).

 The Angry Citizen