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March 2007 Ask the Angry Citizen

EDITORIAL

SKAGIT COUNTY – CASH COW OR LET’S DO IT OURSELVES?

CASH COW

On February 27, 2007 the Corps of Engineers presented their presentation on what was their vision for the future of the Skagit River General Investigation (“GI”) study for flood control.  It was nothing short of a complete disaster.  It was the Corps Seattle District’s staff worst outing in 30 years. 

The Chief of the Planning Branch didn’t even know the name of the Skagit Project.  She continually referred to it as the Skagit River Flood Damage Reduction Study.  (See pg 5 Presentation) She stated that there was no ecosystem restoration element of the current project.  Back in 1996 when the Corps of Engineers used to have good project managers it was decided that the Skagit Project should have a fish restoration element.  (See Corps Ltr to Tribal Representative Wasserman Shortly thereafter the “official” name of the project became the “Skagit Flood Control and Ecosystem Restoration Study”.  (See Agenda for Skagit Flood Control & Ecosystem Restoration Study Coordination Meeting)

The Corps staff stated that a typical GI study to construction is about 8 years.  (See pg 10 PresentationWe are now in the 11th year of a GI study, have spent over $6,000,000, and other than a highly controversial incompatible with local history hydraulic study (that the Chief of Planning stated emphatically “We are done with all that.”) we have virtually nothing to show for it, and now we are told that we pretty much have to begin all over again with an estimated study completion date of 5 more years, at an estimated cost of another $4,000,000.  (See pgs 11-14 Presentation Given the fact that when this current process began it was envisioned that the GI study would be a 2-3 year process, cost no more then $3,000,000, and not recommend a project so large that the Skagit County voters would get a chance to vote on (God forbid the taxpayers would be asked their opinion on this, after all they are just footing the bill), the $4,000,000 estimation could only be expected to be a “little low” considering that there have been no meaningful environmental studies completed not to mention the fact that there are no guarantees that it would be approved by Corps Headquarters in DC, or the US Congress.  (See MFR Subject: Meetings On Skagit Flood Control Study)

In my opinion we have become nothing more than another cash cow for another federal agency.  Pick up the newspaper, watch TV news, read the news media on the internet.  From Virginia, to New Orleans, to Sacramento, to Skagit County, the Corps “process” takes too long to complete if its ever completed, cost too much money, ends up with a project that the local government can’t afford and the federal government won’t fund and ultimately leads to nothing but trips to the bank for the taxpayer to pay the exorbitant salaries of federal employees.  The Corps of Engineers, the once proud element of our federal government has become nothing more than a burden on the American taxpayer.  The once commitment to excellence that so many strived to achieve has been replaced by the fine art of omphaloskepsis.  Nowhere is this more evident then the Corps demand for yet another $214,000 just so they can sit down and figure out how much more money they will actually need and how to spend it.  (See pg 20 Presentation Much of it not all of this $214,000 will go to Corps employees some who make in excess of $50-79 an hour and who bill their time out between $90 to $134.90 an hour.  Put 8 or 10 of these employees into a room to “discuss” the budget and you’re blowing over $1,000 an hour.  Wouldn’t it be much more prudent to hire a professional private sector accountant budget specialist at $500 an hour and get the job done in 10 or 12 hours?

The Corps is not alone in its ineptness.  We have the Justice Department playing politics with…oh yeah….Justice;  the FBI spying on American citizens at random; the EPA allowing farmers who burn their fields to murder innocent women and children;  the USDA failing to protect the food supply (you really think those “free range chickens” you are paying extra for actually roam on the range); the FDA allowing pharmaceutical companies to steal from the Medicare programs; the USGS wrapping themselves in a 25% + or – “error factor” (this is science?);  FEMA whose regulations promote further development in the floodplain, exasperating already dangerous conditions, all the while increasing premium revenue from new development and paying out exorbitant sums to repeatedly flooded property owners (i.e. Currently, 1,291 (out of 8-9,000) Burlington residents pay $709,524 a year in flood insurance premiums (average of $550 per policyholder).  In contrast, Burlington residents have only made 26 claims in the 29 years FEMA has kept records, for a total of in claims payments of $44,904 (average of $1,727 per claim); further, many of those claims were found to be outside of the City, in unincorporated Skagit County (they were mis-coded in the insurance processing).  This contrasts with Hamilton's 85 current policies (costing $54,565 a year) that have produced 182 claims in the last 29 years for claims payments of $2,889,841 ($15,878 per claim).  (Source:  Dept. of Ecology e-mail dated 2/14/07) 

Had I not known so many dedicated federal employees over the last 30 years (most of which have retired or getting ready to retire) it would be easy to surmise that federal government employees are the most overpaid, under worked, inept, incompetent, functional illiterate employees in America.  Is it the employees, or is it “the process”?  Something needs to change.  Until it becomes much easier to fire an incompetent inept federal employee (like those who state on local radio stations that there are 250,000 people living in Burlington or those that don’t even know the name of the Skagit project that they have been working on for over 11 years), until federal employees lose their immunity from civil litigation and can be sued just like the rest of us, the process will remain broken and all of us will pay for it.  We need to put an end to the Corps “process” and “Let’s do it ourselves”. 

“LETS DO IT OURSELVES”

As mentioned in previous editorials, and quotes of the month, on January 3rd, 1922, the very first chairman of the very first flood control committee ever formed in Skagit County, H. L. Willis, urged the people of Skagit County to “take the burden of providing adequate protection on their own shoulders” and concluded with, “Lets do the job ourselves” without relying on the federal government.  (See 1/5/22 Argus)

This is much the same approach the residents of Skagit County adopted to build The Dalles Bridge.  There was no federal or state tax dollars available to build the bridge.  The Dalles Bridge and adjoining road was constructed between November 1950-August 1952 after a successful $700,000 countywide bond issued in November 1948 by a tally of 11,618 for (78.5%) to 3,185 against (21.5%) (See 11/4/48 C.H.)  For several years preceding, Charles "Chuck" Dwelley the Editor of the Concrete Herald had used his editorial pages to push for the construction of a bridge over the Skagit upstream of Sedro-Woolley to replace unsafe, inadequate ferries.  And after the bond issue passed Mr. Dwelley wrote the following:

Well, there is your bridge. Handed to you on a silver platter by the people of Skagit County. All you had to do to get it was work yourself into alternate states of fury and despair over a period of eighteen or twenty years before someone noticed that a bad situation wasn’t getting any better that our wails in the wilderness were of some distress. It takes a lot of time to convince a few stubborn men who don’t want to understand, a very short while to convince a lot of common folks. So, when you get around to watching the final steel go into place on that bridge across the Skagit river, make sure that on the inevitable plaque that goes with its price there are no dedications to glory for the few men whose duty it was to make the plans and buy the steel. Instead, let’s have a simple wording of honesty and truth – “This bridge built by the people of Skagit County.” I wager folks will come for miles around to see that plaque alone, it would be so unusual.  (Charles Dwelley, See 11/4/48 C.H.)

It is exactly that kind of spirit and intestinal fortitude that is needed now.  We can do this ourselves if we put our commitment where our mouths are.  And there is a way that we can do it without raising property taxes through a Countywide Flood Control District which in essence penalizes 66% of the population who had the foresight not to build their homes on the bottom of the river and would only raise $1,000,000 a year in the beginning (although we all know how property taxes have a way of continuing to raise each year).  $1,000,000 a year gets us a project in about 100 years. 

Let’s face it, what is a flood control project going to protect?  The farmland?  Give me a break.  All farmland was created by the river.  It’s farmland because it’s on the bottom of the river.  There are historical articles explaining how the floods are good for the farmland.  (See 11/19/06 TSN-H, 10/26/55 MVDH In fact the best parcel of farmland in the nation identified in 1925 is a parcel that is still subject to periodic flooding today and not protected by levees.  (See 9/3/25 Argus)

No it’s not the farmland that needs protecting.  It’s the infrastructure and commercial base that needs protecting.  One of the pro-flood control arguments for taxing all property in Skagit County is “Well you use our roads.”  That may be correct but where are we going when we use “your roads”?  We’re going to Costco, the malls, and other big box stores that arguably should never have been built there to begin with.  So why not raise the sales tax from those facilities to help pay for flood control. 

Year

Mt. Vernon

Burlington

2006

$        702,657,412.00

$          867,656,353.00

2005

$        560,043,176.00

$          792,370,588.00

2004

$        541,366,824.00

$          720,037,059.00

2003

$        521,248,588.00

$          666,629,412.00

2002

$        502,703,412.00

$          614,093,059.00

Average

$        565,603,882.40

$          732,157,294.20

 

 

 

Sum of 2 Cities

$       1,297,761,176.60

Annual .005 Sales Tax Increase Revenue

$             6,488,805.88

Based on the above sales revenue figures the average sales revenue taken in by just Burlington and Mt. Vernon over the last 5 years was $1,297,761,176 per year.  If we raised the sales tax by just one half of one cent (.005) or for every $10.00 you spend a nickel would have went into the flood control account, we could have raised approximately $6,488,805 per year or put another way we could have had over $32,000,000 in our flood control to be used only for construction only account by 2007 just from Burlington and Mt. Vernon.  If this formula was applied countywide the revenue could be in excess of $10,000,000 per year vs. the $1,000,000 the Countywide Flood Control Property Tax would generate.  There’s an old saying I’ve heard since I was a kid.  “It’s time to fish or cut bait.”  Skagit County because it has relied on the Corps “process” for 117 years has been cutting bait.  I say it’s about time to go fishing.

Let’s do the job ourselves. (H. C. Willis, 1/3/1922)

Let’s do the job ourselves. (The Angry Citizen, 3/25/2007)

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

The Angry Citizen