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December 2007

 EDITORIAL

2007 – A YEAR END REVIEW

 

Another year, another year end review.  The years seem to be going by faster and faster.  2007 has been a pretty tumultuous year for the A/C.  A year in which the frustration factor only grew larger.  So much so that the A/C seriously contemplated shutting down the web page and walking away.  My trust in government anything to accomplish anything but taking our tax money and producing nothing but higher government employee salaries and benefits through higher property taxes has been totally depleted.  But alas, reason and responsibility prevailed and the A/C decided to stick it out for one more year.  However, we may refocus our efforts to get back to our roots and concentrate more on the historical documents (of which I still have thousands that have yet to be reviewed) and updating the papers already published in order to provide the public with the necessary information they need in order to make informed decisions with respect to the future of flood control in Skagit Valley.  The editorials and updates might be changed to quarterly updates instead of monthly.  Still working through that thought process.

The Web Page

The web page continued to grow in popularity being used by developers, environmentalists, consultants, federal, state and even once in awhile local government agencies.  Someday local government and consultants they hire are going to realize that they can save themselves time and the taxpayers’ money if they would visit www.skagitriverhistory.com before they give public presentations.  Maybe then they would be able to answer the questions our county commissioners need the answers to.  (See A/C “Black October”; See also Work Session - Restrictions on Development on Cockreham Island and Other Areas in the ‘Floodway’)

We also switched providers in late 2007.  The new provider, Fidalgo Networking, provides a much more accurate tracking counter.  While we still cannot determine exactly who the individual is who is visiting the web page we can determine what agency, school or company they are with.  One of the joys of running the web page is being able to determine who is showing interest in the material.  The counter also provides the number of times a particular document was visited such as during the month of November we had 2,137 visitors with 1,758 of those being “unique visitors” meaning 379 were repeat visitors.  We know that during the month of November the Dwelley Tribute page was viewed 73 times, the Rain Gage 50 times, Fred Slipper Soliloquies 38 times and the Historical Dam Building paper was viewed 26 times.  We also learned that counting “page views” as an indicator of web page success is a false premise as in November we had over 21,000 page views however 15,733 of those are search engines using gobot’s, robots, spybots, botbots or whatever to search and archive your entire web page.  The real measure of a web page success is in its unique visitors and number of visitor counts.  Again, like last year, thank you for making this labor of love a rewarding experience.

2007 – Flood Control

Unfortunately, from the perspective of positive movement to a comprehensive plan of flood control for Skagit Valley, 2007 can only be summed up in the same word as 2006:  FAILURE.

The SRIP (Skagit River Impact Partnership) essentially ceased to exist.  Unless they have met behind closed doors they haven’t met publically since May 2007. (SRIP Steering Committee Minutes).  It has evidently been replaced with an organization known as SKAGIT FACT (Flood Advisory Conference Team, (See Document Directory: Skagit FACT), an organization composed primarily of local realtors, developers and chamber of commerce members who like the SRIP seemingly only want to pontificate and litigate without ever accepting any responsibility for contributing to the flood problem and offering no solutions with respect to reducing the Skagit River flood risk. 

The County Commissioners or the Public Works Department threw Plan B (Plan B Presentation) under the bus although they promised to take the matter under advisement.  (Plan B webpage with video)  Perhaps because the Skagit County Public Works Department had for two and a half years been secretly conspiring to activate the Skagit Countywide Flood Control Zone District (“FCZD”), along with perhaps a County Commissioner or two,  and some cities and towns and dike districts, and had their minds already made up and didn’t want to be bothered with any kind of analysis that might show the superiority of the Plan B over the FCZD such as the dike districts (municipalities in their own right), cities and towns being on equal footing with the County Commissioners.  Or no funding for government employees only construction projects.  Please review the latest paper on the FCZD (SKAGIT COUNTYWIDE FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT – AN EVOLUTION IN PROGRESS).  As I’ve always said it’s about power and money.  Follow the money because it’s always about the money.

Hydrology continued to be a big point of contention in 2007 with the USGS actually “tweaking” their figures.  USGS finally admitted that Stewart’s figures were questionable and due to a “recent recalculation did indicate that the original peak-discharge calculation by Stewart may be high, and it added to a body of evidence that indicates a revision in the 1921 peak discharge estimate is appropriate.”  (Source:  Re-evaluation of the 1921 Peak Discharge at Skagit River near Concrete, Washington)  The report and subsequent reduction in flood flows for the historic floods seems to confirm a USGS previous statement “uncertainty is a fundamental part of hydrology, science, and engineering” but flies in the face of another statement “it would be improper to use a lesser value even though it may lie within the error range.”  (Source:  USGS Response to Updated Whitepaper)  While some would say this was a minor victory I feel that it was nothing more then a government agency setting itself up to get around the arbitrary and capricious argument if and/or when this issue goes to trial.  One thing became very clear during the whole process.  A hydrologist is nothing more than a statistician who based on whatever “assumption” they want to consider, can make the figures say anything they want to regardless of what local history has to say.  I’ll still place my faith in history rather than the hydrology any day however in a court of law the government scientist will be listened to a lot more then my faith.  As I have told the County Commissioners, in a courtroom, this is a fight that we cannot win and the government knows this.

FEMA base flood elevations (“BFE’s) since they are based on the USGS/Corps of Engineers hydrology will continue to be a very contentious issue in 2008 just like they were in the 1980’s (See 1981-1984 FEMA-BFE Flood Research). This is because of the “new” process being used by FEMA.  By taking the right bank (looking downstream) levy and “assuming” it does not fail, and “removing” the left bank levee and running the hydraulic model as if all the floodwater only went to the left side you are “assuming” the entire river is flowing through this area (something that has never happened in Skagit County’s history).  Since the river is being modeled as if the river is flowing overbank upstream of Interstate 5, and the waters have limited areas to go under or over Interstate 5, the map is showing extreme depths east of the Interstate.  By using this kind of illogical reasoning the model is in essence pre-loading the floodplain with water that has in reality already went downstream.  What is needed for this issue to be put to rest is an independent review (not USGS sending its work to USGS nor the Corps sending its work to the Corps) but a truly independent committee of experts.  By doing this FEMA would also like USGS be getting around the arbitrary and capricious argument at trial.  I have no idea why this is so hard for government to understand.  Both sides, Skagit County and FEMA would abide by the independent reviews decision.  Game over, we move on to provide adequate flood control.

(Source:  City of Burlington Public Works Presentation)

Also, it would seem to me that if the new BFE figures stand that the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and the State Department of Transportation should be held financially responsible for the impacts of the Interstate on flood flows and elevations.  They created the situation that has put us in today’s dilemma.

2007 – Report Card on Flood Control

And now the much anticipated annual report card on flood control.

ANNUAL REPORT CARD ON FLOOD CONTROL -- 2007

Entity

2006 Grade

2007 Grade

Justification

US Army Corps of Engineers

D+

F-

Given the despicable performance by the Corps at the Executive Committee meeting (See Skagit River Feasibility Study Executive Committee Meeting) (A/C “Black October”)  Colonels in the U.S. Army may talk to their privates that way but not the citizens of this county.  Relying on the stars, the moon and a high tide is not what we pay you for.  The process is broken and never leads to workable, fundable solutions.

FEMA

F

F

This grade could easily be changed to an A if they would only agree to a truly independent review of the hydraulic data and seriously review their “process” for determining BFE’s.  Pre-loading the floodplain with water that has already went downstream is unrealistic and does nothing to accurately denote flood risk.

FERC

F

F

Same reason as last year.  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-

D-

How the County to date has handled the whole Countywide Flood Control District has been a little disappointing.  (See SCFCZD–AN EVOLUTION IN PROGRESS)

Hopefully everything will work out however this committee will have to be more closely watched then any other in our history.  Raising property taxes to subsidize development interests of a few is not the answer.

SRIP

D+

F

Committee accomplished nothing but aggravation and contempt as well as spending a lot of money on an overpriced consultant to present very unworkable flood projects.  It is seemingly now defunct unless it is still meeting behind closed doors.

SKAGIT FACT

n/a

F

Skagit FACT seems to want to pontificate and if that fails, litigate against everyone but themselves although many of their membership are directly responsible for placing 3 billion dollars worth of infrastructure in harms way.  What part of you are in the bottom of the river don’t they understand?  (See Document Directory: Skagit FACT)

TRIBES

F

F

Once again they have put forth nothing in the way of constructive ideas on how to bring back fish runs.  They offer no solutions only demands that the Corps is there to protect them and the Corps process is the only process.  See response of tribal representative at Executive Committee meeting.  Skagit River Feasibility Study Executive Committee Meeting

USFW

F

F

Did nothing positive in 2007 towards making positive suggestions to how flood control and ecosystem restoration can work hand in hand.

USGS

F-

F

Their grade went up because they “tweaked” their figures.  See their report and presentation For an agency I used to hold in the highest esteem they have certainly let a lot of us down.  There is nothing that comes out of the hydraulic section of that agency that can be believed by the American public any longer. 

       

2008—What Must Be Done?

The federal government has once again made it perfectly clear that they are not going to significantly lower the Stewart flows, especially the 1897 and 1909 flows which are the ones that are driving the BFE’s as well as keeping us from building 100 year certified levees.  HOWEVER, as stated in previous editorials herein it is time for us to move this situation forward and start raising money to build flood control projects that will alleviate much of the adverse effects of the federal hydrology.  This can be accomplished by a half-penny (.005) sales tax which can raise the money and the projects that could be built in a short amount of time will be the Sedro-Woolley Sewage Treatment Plant levee, the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant levee, and the Town of LaConner Ring Dike.  After those are completed we will be able to safely widen the three bridge corridor and construct an emergency release structure on the right bank of the levee system that will allow the 100 year flood to get pass the City of Burlington, pass Interstate 5, and onto the floodplain in a safe manner before it gets to Mt. Vernon.  This would have the immediate effect of doing away with the floodway designation for those communities and could have the impact of lowering the BFE figures, thus making 100 year certified levees affordable in the future.  To the farming community that would be impacted by the emergency relief structure I say this, your needs should be addressed before a single shovel of dirt is moved.  If we had this system (including the dam storage we have now) in place since 1924 we would have only had to dump the water once in the last 83 years (which should be another huge red flag on just how wrong the hydrology is).  Once in 83 years is not a bad price to pay for the preservation of the best farmland in America (Source:  9/3/25 Argus).

If in 2008 we fail to do this, we will make 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).  Happy New Year!!

The Angry Citizen

 

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