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October 2007

EDITORIAL

"I think it's time to stop spending money on studies and start spending money on flood control.  ...  I don't want to be the commissioner that has to go tell families why they lost their house."  (Source: Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt, 7/1/2001 SVH, "Flood Solution on the Horizon?")

This is a first for the Angry Citizen (“A/C”) editorials.  Leading off with the quote of the month, however, as you read the following you will see why the above quote is so important to the theme of this editorial.  For Black October 2007 will be remembered as the month in which Skagit County took yet another wrong turn with respect to flood control and will continue on the path of a 117 years of failure.  A month where the Skagit County Public Works Department rushed through a recommendation to activate the Skagit County Flood Control Zone District (FCZD).  A district formed by County Resolution in 1970, but never activated because Skagit County never had a public project to fund through the property taxes the FCZD is authorized to collect without a public vote.  I say rushed through as it was evident at a meeting to be discussed later that one of the Mayors didn’t even know his community was in a FCZD, and another community voiced the opinion that they were told about the Thursday meeting on Tuesday, and now learn the vote on the FCZD was to the following Tuesday.  Fortunately, the Board of Commissioners (“BOC”) have delayed their predetermined vote until after November 1st.  Perhaps everything will work out okay with this FCZD but given the sleazy manner in which the Public Works Dept. handled it and realizing that the “Countywide” FCZD will be composed of the same people who brought us the “Countywide” Drainage District and then opted out all the cities and dike and drainage districts on the basis that they “already pay drainage taxes”, one is given a certain amount of pause in trusting the activation of the FCZD.  Hear the footsteps and hang onto your wallets ladies and gentleman, here comes the FCZD.

Sadly, Black October will also be remembered as the month when PLAN B (Please see my webpage with video and documentation) died due to evidently a lack of interest with no formal analysis prepared for the BOC as to its superiority in fairness and structure to the FCZD.  Or perhaps because the Public Works Departments distrust of the voters in Skagit County and their wanting to remain in charge of the flood control decisions, for flood control has always been a turf war in Skagit County and also a means of job security.  It will give the Public Works Department something to do for the next 20 or 30 years as they stand around and talk about flood control.  Their decision has the impact of costing us $20 million dollars in lost sales tax revenue not to mention the additional $7 million dollars for the Corps study.

Black October was the month when several very important meetings were held.  All of the meetings and links to their videos are shown below.  I strongly encourage all of you to watch each and every one of them.  This is a tremendous service provided by County government.  There is now no excuse for not knowing what is happening with our local government.  Government has never been this far into the sunshine for everyone to observe.  PLEASE, if you are interested in the flood issue at all, find the time to watch the videos.

Record of the Proceedings - Monday Session - Oct 08, 2007

Jeff Johnson of Northwest Hydrology Consultants (nhc) gave a presentation titled Skagit River Flood Insurance Study explaining the FEMA process in the morning.

Record of the Proceedings - Monday Session - Oct 08, 2007

Skagit County Commissioners decide Monday afternoon to intervene in the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map controversy.

Record of the Proceedings - Tuesday Session - Oct 09, 2007

A. 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Work Session - Flood Awareness Week Session with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Record of the Proceedings - Thursday Session - Oct 11, 2007

Skagit River Feasibility Study Executive Committee Meeting in which the Corps of Engineers discuss their GI study “status” and Skagit County Government unleashes the well-kept secret of the Skagit County Flood Control Zone District (“FCZD”).

Record of the Proceedings - Tuesday Session - Oct 16, 2007

Skagit County Public Works fleshes out their FCZD to the County Commission.

Public Meeting - Skagit County Community Update Regarding FEMA Flood Mapping - Oct 29, 2007

Public Meeting - Skagit County Community Update Regarding FEMA Flood Mapping, with former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and Mr. Bart Freedman of the K & L Gates Law Firm. 

Unfortunately, I was only able to analyze two of the presentations.  Maybe next month we will get around to the others. 

 nhc  FEMA Flood Insurance Study Presentation (October 8, 2007)

On October 8th the new County consultant nhc (Northwest Hydraulics Consultants) gave a very good although somewhat unprepared presentation on the FEMA Flood Insurance Study (“FIS”). (nhc Presentation: Skagit River Flood Insurance Study)  The entire video of that meeting can be viewed on Skagit 21.

It was stated by the consultant that:

 “FEMA wants accurate maps. . . . “To determine a 100-year flood - it’s a mathematical statistical analysis usually performed on a record of historical flows that have occurred on a river.  The longer that period of record, typically the more accurate your estimate of a 100-year flood will be.”

If only that was the case in Skagit County.  What the consultant failed to state is that if the historical flows are based on questionable data they have the probability of skewing the entire result for the 100-year flood, however as will be shown in the next meeting analysis, it obviously doesn’t matter to the federal government or at least to the Colonel of the Corps of Engineers Seattle District.

On the issue of floodways, the consultant stated among other things:

“Floodway(s) should send shudders through this community.  . . .  (Basically there are three types), The Standard Floodway (pushing in the sides of the floodplain until the water raises 1 foot), The Split Floodway (the channel and another area like Gages Slough that would carry flow vs storage areas), and my favorite The Density Floodway – Limit development until the waters rise 1 foot.  The community needs to be made aware that draft maps will not have floodways on them, but they are coming.  There is a perception since 1984 there was a floodway established and it was supposed to be followed and part of it was along the river corridor.  But there was also this density fringe floodway.  I don’t know if it was ever adopted but FEMA definitely wanted something out in the Gages Slough area, the Burlington area, and I think there is some kind of a floodway out there but I don’t know the details of it.  But I think there is a consideration that it might have simply been ignored.” . . .  The consultant also stated in an answer to Commissioner Dillon’s inquiry about were the 1984 BFE levels with or without levees he responded that he “didn’t know how Dames & Moore performed their study."

Had the consultant done his homework and visited www.skagitriverhistory.com he would have been able to review the following as well as a plethora of many other documents addressing the floodway and BFE determinations:

12/1982

Dames & Moore Report

100 year flood determined to be 240,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley110,000 cfs assumed to stay in channel.  130,000 cfs assumed to flow overland.  Assumed 86,000 cfs flowing to Padilla Bay and 44,000 cfs flowing to Skagit Bay via the Samish basin.  I-5 will ultimately be overtopped.  Used Mannings "n" values of .045 to .06.  Recommended 10% of floodplain could be developed using density floodway method until flood waters would be raised 1 foot.

8/22/1983

FEMA letter re floodway designation of Gages Slough

This letter discusses why FEMA felt it could not designate Gages Slough as a floodway. Cascade Mall hydraulic study could not be supported by any scientific or technical data. Section 60.3c would be part of local ordinances which would require hydraulic analysis of fill in the Burlington area.

12/15/1983

FEMA letter re development restrictions

FEMA informs Dept of Ecology that since a regulatory floodway had not been designated that 60.3(c)(10) would have to be enforced before local or state permits could be issued for building permits.

2/1/1984

FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS

This letter explains why the appeal of the Burlington FIS was denied by FEMA. Regulations only require FEMA to use available topographic data. Lands within and including the Skagit River levees were designated as floodways. Unlikely that historical depth of floodwaters would be repeated.

 

For the record, the levees from the landward toe to the landward toe were designated as “floodways”.  Gages slough was designated as an area of “Special Flood Risk Zone” which was to be treated as a floodway.  The BFE heights were determined as if there were no levees on either side of the river, unlike the current practice of leaving one side with a levee and the other without any levee.  The density floodway came back with a calculation/recommendation that in the lower valley you could develop 10% of your land and leave the other 90% open.  If that had been imposed, we would not be in the predicament we are today and most of the development shown in this SVH Article re Burlington developments would not have been built.  And 60.3(c)10 was never enforced in Skagit County which is more than enough reason for FEMA to throw Burlington and Mt. Vernon out of the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP) altogether.

With respect to the “FEMA process” of determining BFE’s the consultant stated:

A complete levee failure (i.e. 75,000 feet if right bank) is not realistic but it is policy!!!  Doesn’t give you any credit for current protection… My biggest concern with the FEMA maps is that those conditions will never occur.

On this issue the consultant is directly on point and was exactly what I stated in the last August editorial:

“. . .the one thing that I find wrong with the whole FEMA process is that it is preloading the floodplain with water that has already went downstream.  To “pretend” that the levees are not there seems to me to be a preposterous scenario.  By the time the levees would fail, the majority of the water that the model is using has already went out into Skagit Bay, thus the Flo-2d model is artificially inflating the BFE figures.  Its not the modeling that is wrong, it’s the process of assumption.  However, given the fact that the “process” is being used on a national level and none of our congressional leaders have stepped up to the plate and challenged this process, the likelihood of changing it for Skagit County is not only slim and next to none, it is extremely unlikely.

Overall it was a very good depiction of the FEMA FIS process with excellent graphics.  I only wish he had taken the time to utilize the research materials available on this website.  This website was created with the hope that it would aid consultants, government employees, reporters, and the public for personal knowledge and public presentations.  Knowledge is only knowledge when knowledge is shared, but it can only be of benefit when it is used.

Another meeting I would like to bring to your attention was the following:

CORPS OF ENGINEERS GI STUDY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING OCTOBER 11, 2007

The video of this meeting can be viewed on Skagit 21.  Once again, the Executive Committee for the Corps General Investigation (“GI”) study came together.  Below are a few highlights (or low lights depending on your point of view) of the meeting:

Project Management Plan

Corps:                 Completed PMP (Project Management Plan) in Sept.  Sets out task, cost, schedule, to complete feasibility of the general investigative study … it is basically the road map we follow for trying to get the study done.  . . .  50/50 cost share for study phase.  . . .  Estimate will take another 7 ½ million to complete feasibility.  It could be done by 2010 if all the stars are in alignment and the moon shines & it’s a full tide or something …as we do need to get full federal funding every year.  It also assumes that we have no major glitches when we come to looking at any of the modifications to any of the dams in their operational format for flood control.  . . . So far we have spent not quite 7 million on the study.  Started in 1997 … total  projected 14 million

                                A/C comment:  The stars, the moon, and a full tide, I always wondered what government agents relied on for their decision making process.  See quote of the month above.

Ecology:             When we were here in February the estimated cost to complete the feasibility study was 3-4 million and it was going to be done by 2012.  Now that’s almost doubled to 6-7 million & to be done by 2010?

Corps:                 That’s the difference between having a hunch and actually sitting down with your team and doing a full scope.  …  Time & cost estimates are assuming the best case scenario.

                                A/C comment:  Okay government, no more hunches allowed.  And how about using the worst case scenario since that seems to be more the norm then not.

Skagit County Flood Control Zone District

County:               Moving forward with Skagit County Flood Control Zone District (“FCZD”).  Doesn’t yet know how to best structure the committees.

Anacortes:        A/C comment:  Mayor Maxwell wanted to know if county “plan” had been finalized.  He was told what had been formalized was part and goods of the countywide comp plan which they do not have yet.  The countywide comp plan is what the Department of Ecology has been using as a vehicle to fund the GI study which is something that perhaps is highly questionable since all other counties that suffer flooding have long since published their countywide comp plans.  “To date, we have funded this study with $1,649,500 in FCAAP funds starting with the 1997-1999 Biennium.  This includes $280,000 that was recently awarded for the 2007-2009.”  (Source:  Chuck Steele MFR for Skagit River Feasibility Study Executive Committee Meeting, October 11, 2007)

County:               Tribes are looking at how they can participate without being in a decision/policy-making role when we are asking them to participate at a high technical role.

Tribes:                “We are looking over the process & thinking about how we might be involved in this with maybe a little bit of nervousness in the decision process as opposed to our government to government relationship with the Corps & their trust responsibility to the tribes.  So its under consideration.”

                                A/C comment:  Government to government, code for nation to nation.  You know what, we don’t let the people of another nation make decisions in our country because they are another government and don’t pay taxes.  Until the Tribes stop massacring the fish runs of the Skagit River they should most definitely not have any decision making powers in the FCZD.  If they wish to offer advice then by all means we should listen, but let them have decision making authority, NO WAY!!

Corps:                 FCZD does not speak directly for the Corps but they are an important input for the Corps.  . . .  They (FCZD) are a local agency.  The Corps won’t be members, they won’t be making decisions for us.  They will be providing input to the county who then will work with us.

County:               Geographical boundaries (of the FCZD) are countywide.  Zone was established in 1970.  The structure had never been implemented.  FCZD advisory committee limited to 15 by statute.  Are not the same as technical committees.  . . .  Advisory committee advises the BOC, for decisions on flood control matters & environmental issues for improving along the Skagit or Samish Rivers.

Sedro-Woolley:   We got the invitation to this meeting in our office on Tuesday for a meeting on Thursday for a plan that’s going to be adopted on Monday it’s a little frustrating with the speed with which the movement going on.  It doesn’t feel like we are getting the meaningful participation that we would like to have.

County:               This is not something that we have rushed into.  It has been designed for some time.

Anacortes:        Respectfully you are asking for a huge commitment from each one of the cities as part of this process that hasn’t been discussed with me.

                                A/C comment:  So the FCZD has been around since 1970, one mayor doesn’t even know his town which doesn’t flood was in it and Sedro-Woolley had a week’s notice to approve?  Sounds like the Public Works Department has done a terrible job of communicating something that has been around for 37 years.

Corps:                 The district & the GI study are not linked.

                                A/C comment:  Then why are we wasting time talking about it when no less than 5 federal agents are sitting on the behinds twiddling their thumbs at the rate of hundreds of dollars an hour.  This topic was highly inappropriate and was a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars. 

Mt. Vernon:      Money for FCZD not to be used for study but for projects.

County:               Right… there is no project for 1 dollar to be generated by this district yet… one of the real goals of the FCZD is to make sure when we get to the end of the G.I. study is that we have projects that have a strong community support and we are trying to compliment.  The outreach portion of the GI study with a well-structured, broad based local process.  This will continue, it will take us years to implement the flood control that is needed in this county.  This district is by no means a two year process.  That if we are hitting full stride in two years I will be very encouraged.

                                A/C comment:  The operative word here is “yet”.  Nothing is expected to be ready for the public for at least two years.  Two more years of yak yak yak, can’t accomplish that, need more money to finished what we started 117 years ago.  If the FCZD is the answer then why has it taken the Public Works Department so many years to bring it to the public’s attention?  Where was the analysis and comparisons to other plans that have been offered?

Anacortes:        I think the formality of establishing the district is what causes me some concern.

County:               The district is already there… it’s just that we have done nothing with the district.

                                A/C comment:  That’s right they have done nothing with the District for 37 years and now, without much warning to anyone all of a sudden it is activated. 

Anacortes:        I’m not aware that we are part of a flood control district.  We handled our own storm water.  You say it exists and we are part of it?

County:               Yes.

                                A/C comment:  Clearly nothing was done with respect to making sure Anacortes was on board with the activation of the District.

Sedro-Woolley:   But it is without structure at this point.  This is new & I think we are mixing & matching the role of the Board of Supervisors, the advisory committee & the technical committees… this is not an inconsequential action.  It could have a big impact.  …  I’m also concerned about the nature of the levy.  I’m concerned about the protections that citizens might need from future revenue enhancementsThat is new taxes.  That may or may not be a direct benefit to certain citizens in the community.

                                A/C comment:  Finally, someone gets what is at stake here.  The FCZD with the County Commissioners’ in complete control has the authority to raise property taxes without a vote of the people.   Property taxes should never be raised without a vote of the people.

County:               That is what the advisory committee would be task with that. … This is not about raising money but making sure all the parties that have a risk from the river at least at the table & we can get their input.

                                A/C comment:  Get a grip County.  It’s about the money.  It’s always about the money.  All parties have been to the table before and worked very well together without the formation of the FCZD.  That committee composed of federal agents, state agents, county agents, Skagit Valley farmers, dike districts, Tribes (who at the time stated what a good idea the Avon By-Pass was) and cities and towns, reached a consensus to recommend the By-Pass project.  Had not the Corps and the Tribes sabotaged that process by requiring million dollar studies on “eel grass” it would have been built.  IT WAS NOT NECESSARY TO ACTIVATE THE FCZD TO GET ALL THE PARTIES AT THE TABLE.

Mt. Vernon:     Does the process allow the people to vote on this measure?

County:               At this point we are not proposing any revenue sourcing.

Mt. Vernon:     What I’m asking is, does the process, if that decision were made allow for a vote of the taxpayers to vote on a measure of whether or not they want to tax themselves for this expenditure?

County:               Well first of all this group has to do an analysis to see if there was anything that would require funding to bring forward (a project) … there is nothing to preclude the board from seeking any means that is available for funding.  They have the authorization right now.  …  All this does is put a structure that provides an advisory committee to advise the board on matters such as that.

                                A/C comment:  Analysis….is that kind of like a study?  See quote of the month above.  That’s right county, under the FCZD you have the authorization right now to stick it to the 66% of the property owners who do not live in the floodplain and will not receive equal benefit from any proposed projects.  Notice I didn’t say “no” benefit.  Yes, we all benefit from flood control to some degree.  It is those degrees that bother me.  34% of the residents would actually make money.  66% would receive the bill.

Mt. Vernon:     There is no procedure for actually deciding?  How you will collect the money as for as going to a vote?

County:               That is one of the tasks that the advisory committee would address is how would a local share for any projects or any activities associated with flood control in Skagit County be financed.

Corps:                 There is a state statute that controls what you can and can’t do for funding.

                                A/C comment:  Exactamundo Corps.  The statute controls the funding.  Contrary to the Public Works Dept. employee stating that the statute doesn’t preclude you from doing just about anything you want to do.  These kind of questions need to be ran by the County Attorney before they can be relied on by the general public.

Ecology:             Only other countywide FCZD’s in the state are in Whatcom County & Yakima County.  King County is now also proposing a FCZD.

County:               The statute does provide limits for financing within this structure.  However it doesn’t preclude other sources of financing.  So should the board of the advisory group recommend a method of financing through this concept it would be limited by statute, but it does not say that is the only way you can do it.

                                A/C comment:  See previous comment.

Mt. Vernon:     What does statute say about levying the tax?

County:               “It has a limit of .50 cents per thousand of assessed valuation as the upper limit.”  . . .  One of the best uses of this type of funding would be as leverage for additional dollars that the group collectively could possibly access through grants.  …  Levying power already exist.  It is not an expansion of any powers the commissioners have.

                                A/C comment:  That’s right, power already exist and we all know how power corrupts.

Mt. Vernon:     One of the ultimate reasons for putting this in place was the ability to raise money for projects.  You just stated that earlier.  My only point is that I think this is something that goes to a vote of the people.  Because I think people will be very positive about funding flood protection in Skagit County.

                                A/C comment:  What is needed before we get too far along in this FCZD that we have done nothing with for the last 37 years is an advisory vote by the people of Skagit County to the County Commissioners.  No matter what project or projects have or will be proposed they will need funding.  Why not, as with the 2006 fluoridation advisory vote, ask the people of Skagit County, assuming they want to pay for flood control, if they had a choice between a property tax being levied by the BOC, and choosing a sales tax instead, which one would they prefer.  This way the decision would not be left up to an advisory committee of 15 people, many of which were the same people behind the “countywide” drainage district and then exempted themselves from the property tax on the basis that they already paid drainage taxes.  Those same 34% of the people where evidently the majority of the members will be chosen from to sit on the advisory committees already pay flood property taxes.  This should give everyone pause about the fairness of the FCZD and the people behind it.

G.I. Study Funding

Ecology:             The GI is calling for about 7 ½ million bucks in the next 3 years, about 2.5 million per year, 1 ¼ million for the corps each year, and I’m looking down at that end of the table (legislative aides to Sen. Murray) because I haven’t seen that kind of money coming forward.  That’s 2 or 3 times as much as you have been getting.  And I guess my question is what does that mean in terms of time?

Corps:                 If we don’t get full funding the schedule will slip.  …  It is an optimistic schedule.  Sometimes you do have to be optimistic.

                                A/C comment:  Well Corps you always have those stars aligning, the moon shining and those high tides to get you through the rough patches.  As for as the congressional types who should be steaming mad at the Corps and demanding a full scale congressional investigation into where the 6.5 million dollars already spent went to, instead they sat and hardly spoke at all.  Perhaps that’s because on January 10, 2006 there was a secret meeting between congressional staff and the Corps and FEMA, and others in Washington DC to discuss the FIS and GI process timelines.  Rep Larsen’s office reported out on several meetings recently attended where residents called into question government (and staff) bias.  The report was concluded with a statement to the effect that the delegation would no longer meet directly with PIE or the SRIP.  Corps stressed that the issue was one of public safety and that federal agencies have a responsibility to map the true risk, not manipulate data to suit development pressure. FEMA echoed these comments and stressed concern over the length of time this study was taking to complete while development continues to occur in hazardous locations.  All agreed that coordination was critical and would continue between agencies and with the locals.

Mt. Vernon:     We also have to be realistic.

Burlington:     I would like to bring up the hydrology (listed several independent studies that were performed since the last executive meeting).  We are at a point where the weight of the technical analysis needs to be looked at again.  …  I’m just not sure what the Corps has in mind on this & I continue to be very concerned about this.  …  This issue just really needs to be addressed.

 Corps:                 And that . . . has been the reason why we have been at this since 1997, with very little results.  We are not revisiting hydrology.  …  We are not re-visiting the hydrology.  …  We are going to make some assumptions & we are going to move on.  If & when we get to the end this will go through a rigorous independent technical review, and at that point, …  The process that we are doing is working throughout the nation & we are going to stick to this process, if we are going to have Corps of Engineers involvement.  …  In order to get federal participation that is the way we are going.  …  When we get to the end we will do an independent review.  …  Everyone needs to stop fighting the process & go along with the process, and see where it goes.  …  We cannot afford that – that is not good science.  …  That is where we are going if you want Corps participation …. At least as long as I am here we are going forward with the hydrology we have right now.

                                 A/C comment:  Threatening the local community aside Colonel, wasn’t it you who at the last Executive Committee meeting stated words to the effect that if new information came available you would clearly consider it?  Sure it was.  And since January there have been several new studies and conclusions reached and now you are going to reject them all.  I think the local community ought to seriously consider telling the Corps to take their “PROCESS” and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.  Your attitude aside, not  necessarily because the Corps is wrong, Ted’s idea of the West Mt. Vernon by pass is nothing short of genius, but because the locals will not be able to afford it and our electeds in Congress will not fund it as well.  That was the main reason the Avon By-Pass was cancelled.  Murray and Larsen’s office told us that they would not be able to get that large (300 million plus) of a project through Congress.  The only people getting money from the "PROCESS" are federal employees.  By agreeing to go forward with the "PROCESS" and not following Plan B, the locals are in essence passing up 20-30 million dollars in lost sales tax revenue and throwing away another 7 million dollars on a STUDY (see quote of the month above) that's fruition is dependent on "the alignment of the stars, a full moon and a high tide", and is going to get them nothing in the end because they can't afford it.

 LaConner:        Colonel, it’s not about process, it’s about truth, scientific truth.  We know that the 4 floods in question are anecdotal evidence.  They are after the fact evidence & yet you want to treat them as scientific fact.  …  What is the truth about flooding in Skagit Valley?

 Corps:                 1921 is as good as we could get today.

                                 A/C comment:  If 1921, based on mud marks on maple trees, marked by a man who didn’t show up until over a year later, and left Skagit County before any measurements were taken which by the way were taken by County employees not USGS, is the best you could get today, damn Colonel, not a thing you are doing has one ounce of creditability.

LETS DO IT OURSELVES!  LETS DO IT NOW!!

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

 The Angry Citizen

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