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April 2007

COMMENTS IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS

Ted Cook of Mt. Vernon writes:

Why spend money to study something that has a slim chance of being built?  The Corp uses this principal for not studying certain options within a river system.  Why keep studying the Skagit in general? 

In order to ensure government paychecks the federal government “studies” potential projects for decades and ultimately little if anything ever gets done.  I would refer you to Skagit River Reports (Past studies, reports, and documents).  Admittedly the document needs to be updated and when it is it will show that we are now well past 80 “studies, reports, examinations, surveys, etc.” over the last 117 years.  My feeling is that if you can’t get it right in 117 years and tens of millions of dollars, that the chances of you getting it right now is probably slim and next to none. 

In the bigger national picture, I heard Linda Smith (Corps Project Manager) say that the Skagit system is a low priority.  She said longer river systems in other parts of the country have more infrastructures to lose.  Even if a plan for the Skagit is decided on, wouldn't one of these other rivers have higher priority and get the federal money to build the project?

At the meeting you are referring to the Corps of Engineers used the following graphics:


(See Presentation by Col. Mike McCormick to Skagit County)

In a recent Associated Press article titled “Amid Mounting Complaints, Report Calls for Overhaul of Army Corps of Engineers” dated April 13, 2007, it was disclosed that “Jennifer Kefer, a water resources policy consultant for Environmental Defense, said the House version has tacked on $15 billion in new projects despite a backlog of $58 billion in work already weighing down the agency.”  So there are currently $73 billion taxpayer dollars worth of projects and Skagit County is at a minimum 5 years or more away from even being considered in the pipeline.  So yes TC, many other areas of the country have had positive congressional leadership, cooperative federal employees, and cooperative local governments and they are all way ahead of us in line.  As an aside, recently the House of Representatives passed HR 1495 the Water Resources Development Act 2007 Bill.  The only mention of Skagit County is with regard to a “Sauk River Assessment”.  Chances of the “pot of gold” at the end of the Corps process rainbow are slim and next to none.  Even Colonel McCormick stated at the meeting that at the end of the Corps process there are no guarantees that anything would ever be built.

Second, even if the federal money were available, would the local money be there?

Since 1971 the County has on the books the Skagit Countywide Flood Control District.  It has never been activated to raise everyone’s property taxes to help pay for flood control.  (See History of Countywide Flood Control Districts) There are those that feel this concept is nothing more then a penalty for the 66% of us that chose not to live or operate our businesses in the flood plain.  It is because of the controversy that would be created by the activation of the District that I have been an outspoken advocate and very strong supporter of raising the sales tax by .005% (a half of a penny) to pay for flood control construction (no money would go for government employee salaries).  See Skagit County – Cash cow or let’s do it ourselves? and The three forks in the road: Have we reached a lose lose situation or is there another alternative?, editorials for March and February.  As for what the money would be spent on I would also recommend you review The Realities of Flood Control in Skagit County The sales tax is the fairest tax of them all.  This way anyone who shops at the malls or the big box stores (and lets face it, that’s what this is really all about, protecting the commercial base of Skagit County) would for every $10 spent in the stores be contributing a nickel towards construction of a responsible flood control project.  Those who play – pay.  You might ask why should the people in Anacortes pay an additional sales tax?  People in Anacortes not only shop in Burlington and Mt. Vernon but their water supply system is wholly contingent on a successful flood fight in the River bend area.  The amount of money that could be raised on a countywide basis would be around $10,000,000 a year.  If the money is set aside for construction purposes only in ten years we would have over $100,000,000 and could build our project.

Here is a possibility, a 100 year flood project may not be affordable in the next century and maybe forever.  This brings into question the logic behind a 100 year mandate, for me anyway...

For perhaps the most complete discussion of the history of the 100 year flood standard I would refer you to http://www.floods.org/Foundation/Files/2004_Forum_BackgroundPapers.pdf.  However, while the standard itself is based on a statistical analysis, that analysis is only as good as the hydrology used to create it.  As I am sure you are aware this web site is devoted in large part to showing just how questionable the current hydrology being used by FEMA, USGS and the Corps really is.  Please see Skagit River Hydrology Independent Technical Review Draft Report for the latest analysis of the four historic floods on the Skagit River which are driving the determination of the 100 year flood.  As the report clearly indicates the 4 historic floods are “uncertain” at best.

My question is, if nothing more is done, and the river rises higher than before, what will happen?  Will the dikes south of Mt. Vernon break, increase the flow and save the cities as Harry Hosey suggested to me?  Will the dikes of north Mt. Vernon break and fill the Riverside drive and College way area?  Will the railroad bridge clog and send water north down Burlington Blvd.?  Will the Nookachamps basin fill and send water over 20 and down the slough into Burlington.  I would think it would be prudent to know what the failure mode is.  Maybe steps could be taken to minimize it’s impact.

The short answers to all of your questions are YES.  All of those things are possible.  The problem with identifying a current failure mode is that the dike districts being very legally prudent, once the area is identified as weak or an area that will fail, immediately run out and beef up that section of the levee so you might be able to identify a failure mode today, but within weeks that will change under current conditions.  This is one of the reasons I have stated many times in the past and will probably state many more times in the future, that being with the exception of buying and paying for additional flood storage behind Lower Baker and possibly Ross, there is only one flood project that makes any real sense.  That project is widening the three bridge corridor, leave the levees west of I-5 at their current level, move them back and redesign them to allow overtopping in any event greater that a 1990 or 1995 flood event.  Getting the water past the City of Burlington and I-5 and getting rid of it before it gets to Mt. Vernon in a safe and designed failure mode is not only prudent but affordable.  If we had this system in effect since 1924, the farmland would have only flooded once and possibly twice in the last 83 years.  That’s not a huge price to pay for 100 year protection for our urban areas and to preserve the best farmland in the nation, and yes it would certainly “minimize its impact”.  Let’s quit fooling around with this issue.  Raise the sales tax by .005 cents and “Let’s do it ourselves” and begin building our project within the next 5 years.

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

 The Angry Citizen