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April 2008

EDITORIAL

THE SKAGIT FACT NINE SCENARIOS’

 

At the last two meetings of the local group calling itself “Skagit FACT” (Flood Advisory Conference Team) whose purported “mission” is “to advise and educate citizens, businesses, and local governments on issues and impacts of flood policies and regulations with attention to safety and quality of life concerns of the region” an agenda was circulated that contained a list of discussion points under the title “What is wrong with this scenario?”  To date, no one has made any sincere effort in answering the questions.  So I thought if not me than who?  I realize that the answers below can and I am sure will be considered on occasion inflammatory to some, and even insightful to others.  I can assure you that I do not necessarily believe in all the statements that are made however, they are offered in a devils advocate vein.  I can also assure you that when these issues come to fruition, the City/County employees and their elected officials will take a lot more heat then what is proffered here and it is hoped that this exercise will assist them in developing reasonable and responsible answers to the concerns of all Skagit Valley residents in order that we do not achieve another failure as we did in 1979. 

What is wrong with this scenario?

1.     Need to assure a neutral or better yet positive affect on local fisheries.

Without this element contained in any flood control plan and/or project the plan is a plan to fail.  There can be no question that the historical diking/drainage policies (many that started previous to 1866 and are continued today) have had a serious impact on fish runs in the Skagit River.  Therefore, any project should have a mandatory percentage of value that would go towards an individual or several, fish enhancement projects identified and approved by all stakeholders.  This mandatory percentage should then be matched by the Tribes in a reduction of the amount of fish taken out of the river system by the use of nets.  This kind of approach would go a long way in bringing all sides together in a spirit of cooperativeness wherein all (as in everybody) benefits from the public tax dollars.  If it is perceived that one side or the other is benefiting and not contributing to the solution instead of the problem, then again, it is a plan to fail.  In the alternative, we could follow the advice of the testimony in 1960 during a local trial that we should just close the Skagit to ANY fishing by anybody for a period of two salmon life cycles.  (See  12/13/60 SVH, 12/14/60 SVHMy personal philosophy for saving the salmon is a pretty simple one, QUIT EATING THEM!  Boycott salmon.  Don’t buy it in the stores, don’t order it in restaurants, don’t go to any public event that serves salmon.  One of the greatest acts of hypocrisy I have ever observed is when the Tribes and the local fish enhancement groups all get together to “Honor and Celebrate the Salmon” and then when you ask what’s for dinner, the answer is always “Salmon”.  If honoring is equated to killing and eating, I don’t ever want to be honored. (See Historical Record of Fish Related Issues (1897-1969))

This type of approach (everyone contributes to the solution because everyone is contributing to the problem) is in the same vein as the question I have asked Burlington and Mt. Vernon no less then 8 times in the last 2 years and will ask it again here.  What are you willing to do for flood control?  If you want federal, state, or local tax dollars, what are you willing to give back to the community (i.e. taxpayers) for their support?  To date the city staffs and elected officials from the local jurisdictions have yet to respond in any manner to the question.  The question should be “Ask not what flood control can do for you but, what are you willing to do in order to achieve a viable flood control project?”  What are you willing to give up, not what are you demanding?

2.     Forget the GI Study, too slow and little/no $$$ anyway.  Focus GI Study on the Baker River system.

While many would love nothing more then a public flogging and then firing of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District due only to the fact that they have been working on this river valley solution for over 108 years and have accomplished nothing but study after study (see History of Flood Control Projects Studied, and Skagit River Reports (Past studies, reports, documents),  at the expense of the American taxpayer as well as the local taxpayers, we all know that is not going to happen, until local governments, and more importantly the voters of Skagit County, can agree on a plan or projects in the plan AND ARE WILLING TO FUND IT COMPLETELY THROUGH LOCAL TAX DOLLARS and not federal tax dollars.  If you want federal and/or state tax dollars then you are going to have to play by the federal and/or state rules.  Something that local jurisdictions do not exactly have a stellar record of accomplishment of doing.

In the Corps defense, their failure has not always been entirely their own fault nor the fault of the individual employees who work there.  Skagit County and its cities and towns have been difficult to work with and on at least one occasion let a flood control project die due to a purported “lack of interest in flood control.” (Source: BOC letter to Corps re Avon Bypass 9/6/66) (See also Historical Record of the Avon By-Pass Proposal (1921-2004))  Add that to the fact that the military system all the Corps employees are forced to work under and you have a system that is designed to fail. 

However, the fact remains that the chance of accomplishing anything more then spending another 7 million dollars (on top of the 7 million dollar plus already spent since 1995) in hopes of achieving the pot of gold at the end of the Corps process is admittedly slim and next to none.  While everyone understands the political ramifications of pulling out of the GI process (i.e. we will lose the support of our entire congressional delegation, the Tribes, the environmental community, etc.) for any future funding proposals, IF (and admittedly it is a pretty big IF), and only IF the voters of Skagit County (as in not some local government employees who apparently are already conspiring to raise local property taxes, sales taxes, drainage and utility taxes without a vote of the people) approve a funding mechanism (as in approving a half cent sales tax vs. a property tax) to pay for a flood control project then and only then will it be time to look at pulling out of the Corps GI process.  In any event, until the funding issue is settled I’m afraid that we are stuck with the GI process and the Corps of Engineers.

3.     BUT we want more Baker River system storage, the maximum available.

The answer here is pretty simple.  We want.  We want.  When are you going to realize that nobody really gives a damn what we want?  If we want more storage behind the Baker dams then get off your dead lazy behinds and PAY FOR IT.  Storage behind the dams is the no-brainer approach to flood control.  This is the only project that makes any sense of using  property tax dollars on (but again only on the approval of the voters of Skagit County) as everyone in the County benefits from additional storage (unlike levees that benefit primarily the people who live behind them until of course when the break, and break they will and then they cause more problems then they solve).  The issue is not only one of storage but in the operation of the dams which additional storage is an integral part of.  Remember, 60% plus of the total flood flows in the Skagit River come from uncontrolled sources (no dams on their systems).  The key is to pass the Baker River flows either before or after the crest of the Sauk River passes Concrete.  If we can achieve this, it will have a great impact on the size and cost of flood control projects in the lower valley.

4.     Focus on supporting Burlington and Dike 12 efforts to setback and raise dike. Focus on supporting Mount Vernon’s downtown flood protection efforts.  Focus on developing a solution for Riverside Drive/College Way/Freeway Drive.

These three discussion points have been combined because the discussions on all three are pretty much the same.  A lot would depend on what the “efforts” entail and how they are planned to be financed.  Example, if the “efforts” are to set back the levees and remove the current levees as has been explained in the Stansbury report but denied at Skagit FACT meetings, and the “efforts” are truly going to compensate individuals for any and all adverse impacts from the “raising of the dikes” (they’re not dikes they’re levees) and the funding is going to come from sources other then property taxes then perhaps this is a viable project.  However, if the old levees are going to remain in their current location, if property taxes from all of Skagit County residents are to be used to benefit the commercial interest in Burlington, if more farmland is going to be annexed by the City of Burlington and Mt. Vernon for the purpose of commercial development, then many would say that the “efforts” come at way too much of a price.  That Mt. Vernon and Burlington would be receiving a windfall of benefits while everyone else receives the bill and if that is the end game for Burlington and Mt. Vernon then the 66% of the people who reside outside of the floodplain would have justification to reject the “efforts” by public vote.  In short, the 66% of the people who reside outside the floodplain don’t owe Burlington or Mt. Vernon anything.  Those two cities made the conscious choice to locate themselves and their residents and commercial interest in the bottom of the river.  It’s not like they didn’t know they were in a flood area.  (See 10/21/1895 The Skagit News)

If indeed, as has been promised by the County Commissioners, that any and all aspects of flood control will be voted on by all the taxpayers in Skagit County, then the financing of such, or any flood control project, will be paramount to the success of that vote.  Some very interesting paths of thought need to be explored with respect to financing before we spend another 7 million dollars on studies to determine what we want to do. 

Examples:

From: KellyBriggs

To: DaveBrookings

Subject: RE: Flood Control Zone District - RCW 86.15

Date: 6/27/2005 3:57:38 PM

 

Dave –

 

At the present time, there are no districts that would be adversely affected by an additional levy of $.50 per thousand of assessed value. Keep in mind, however, there is still a group of people trying to establish a county wide library district. If the library district was formed and they levied their maximum levy of $.50 and the Flood Control Zone also levied $.50 then there would be prorationing.  If there were any levy codes on Fidalgo Island that exceeded the $5.90 limit, the first district to be cut would be Fidalgo Park & Rec.  The Flood Control Zone would be second. In the remainder of the county, the Flood Control Zone would be the first to be cut. In regards to the Constitutional One Percent Limit, the EMS districts would be cut first, then Park & Rec. districts, followed by Flood Control Zones.

 

Based on the current assessed value, a levy of $.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value would generate approximately $5,220,000. This is based on the value of all taxable property in the county and does not include any exempt property.

 

Some things you might want to keep in mind when considering this levy (these are the ones you'll get the most "inquiries" from):

 

Some 2,500+ low income senior citizen/disabled persons who I don't believe would be exempt from this assessment.

 

Property owners on Cypress Island, Guemes Island, Sinclair Island (how would they benefit?)

 

Tideland owners

 

Property owners currently paying large assessments to diking and drainage districts.

 

I did notice that the legal description for the district does except a portion of the county lying between Edison and Blanchard. I wonder what the reason for excepting that area was?

 

Let me know if you have any more questions.

 

Kelly Briggs

Skagit Co. Assessor's Office

See SKAGIT COUNTYWIDE FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT – AN EVOLUTION IN PROGRESS.

See also E-mail discussion re: Plan B

Consider “Plan B, modified” which would take most features of your proposal and combine it with additional revenue sources:  the modified plan might include a 7 cent property tax increase through the flood control zone district, which would generate a little more than $1 million per year and be managed by the county.  I believe this small property tax levy should be imposed by the Board of Commissioners without a general election vote, similar to the conservation futures levy.  Justification:  significant health and welfare issue.  Regarding sales tax, I think it is a good idea, but that we should forward the notion of a 1/10th of 1 percent increase – not 5/10ths.  This would generate I think about $2.5 million per year.  Add in contributions from Burlington’s and Mount Vernon’s stormwater utility and street funds – say about $250k per year per city.  That’s another $500,000.  Add in contributions from Dikes 12 and 17 mainly, with some from 1 and 3.  That is another $500,000.  Using this as the base capital funding amount, go after other state and federal funding sources.  Certainly, the State would be expected to be a big player.  Regarding Fed money, forget WRDA and go for Fed transportation funding and maybe the long-talked about environmental funding.  Tailor the individual component projects so that they will be good candidates for specific outside funding.  This will take some thought and effort.  So what I’ve outlined above would generate about $4.5 million per year of local funds, which would provide a significant lever for acquiring state and federal funds.  I think this would be an adequate level of local funding, if the underlying h&h gets corrected.  I think it is very important that the State and Feds pay their fair share of this thing, and my goal would be to get the State and Feds to pony up at least $3 million more per year.  Goal should be:  same as local contribution.  In my opinion. 

Just the two above discussions should make it clear to all involved that the financing of flood control projects should be determined before any “support” for any flood control projects can be generated.  Follow the money, because it is always about the money.  (See Plan B Presentation)

5.     Keep other areas at current protection level and let the water go where it will in Sterling, Avon, etc.  Likely not an enormous impact, what 1-3 feet spread over the flood plain with more water in low spots?

        There are a few things wrong with how this scenario is stated.  First, if you improve the levees to give Mt. Vernon and Burlington “100 year certified protection” the water will not go in the same manner (i.e. depths and velocity) as it currently does.  The water has not went “where it will” since the levees were placed in their current location and continually improved since 1898 with the exception of when the levees break, which is what levees do, they break.  They build a sense of false security for those unfortunate enough to live behind them.  This of course creates an “enormous impact”.

As has been stated many times, we are discussing the issue of flood control as a direct result of Dike District #12 actions.  That district, which evidently has now become the puppet for the puppet-master City of Burlington, backs up water as far as the Sedro-Woolley sewage treatment plant and puts 8 to 10 feet of water in the downstream corridor that God never intended to be there.  (See graphic to #9 below.)  With respect to the severity of the flooding conditions experienced on the Skagit River, it is the acts of man more so then the acts of God that has sealed the fate of our residents.  (See The Realities of Flood Control in Skagit County)

This scenario would be much more accurate if it would be stated along the lines of what are the impacts of spillways and should they be considered? 

Emergency Overflow Spillway:  If we are successful in obtaining accurate hydraulic data and the 100 year flood flows are adjusted downward as the historic record strongly suggest they should be, and if we could achieve the added protection of additional storage either through voluntary or compensation means, then I feel that the cheapest, most environmental friendly and engineering feasible project we could build would be an emergency overflow spillway in the Avon area.  This spillway would only be activated when flows reach 145,000 cfs at the Mt. Vernon gage.  In the last 82 years, the spillway would only have had to be used once and possibly twice (1990 and 1995).  The floodwaters would then flow naturally towards Padilla Bay, which is where they are going to flow anyway during a major flood event.  It is not as if we would be spilling the entire flow of the river.  During the 1990 flood event, the spillway would only have been spilling water for a period of 11 hours for an average of 5,100 cfs per hour.  Granted, during a 100-year event, the spillway could be spilling as much as 30-50,000 cfs but what is the alternative; to have the water flow through the City of Burlington or be forced into the Samish River Basin? 

There would be many benefits to the spillway approach:

a.       It would allow the flood waters to pass the City of Burlington and spill onto the floodplain in a safe manner before it reaches the City of Mt. Vernon thus saving the Urban areas from catastrophic flooding.

b.      By allowing the farmland to be subject to flooding (once in the past 82 years) it would preserve the farmland from Urban encroachment.

c.       By designating the area as a floodway it would prohibit further development in the natural corridor where under current conditions the floodwaters are going to go anyway thus decreasing future damages.  Further, it would keep the floodway designation out of the Urban areas which under current conditions in all likelihood it will be placed.

d.      Out of all the projects looked at, this could be the most affordable; provide the most benefits, meet the three E’s, perhaps even be acceptable to the majority of the voters who should have the final say in any proposed project.  Admittedly, the people living in this floodway corridor would object, but what they must realize is that if we do nothing, which is what we have done for the last 100 years, during any catastrophic levee failure or even if the levees hold under current conditions the water will end up in that corridor as they have in so many floods in the past. 

e.       What about the fish you ask?  Wouldn’t providing an emergency overflow spillway put fish out onto the floodplain?  The simple answer is yes.  Once in the last 82 years we would have impacted some fish.  In the last 82 years there have been many levee failures.  The most recent on Fir Island in 1990.  How many fish were impacted by the levee failures?  If there were no levees, how many fish are stranded on the floodplain?  The fish issue like any other adverse impact can be mitigated if given a chance.

(Again See The Realities of Flood Control in Skagit County)

With respect to the above scenario’s misstatement that letting water go where it wants to go is “Likely not an enormous impact” that still needs to be determined through proper hydraulic analysis, something that to date has not been done.  However, allowing the river to go through downtown Burlington or Mt. Vernon will have an “enormous impact”.  The question should be “Do we allow the river to go onto the floodplain in a reasonable responsible manner into areas where it is trying to go and has and will go again in the least destructive method?”  The answer to that question should be an unequivocal yes!

6.     Let Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes protect their near-river infrastructure, both of which are utility oriented and supported by specific rate payers.  Mount Vernon is taking care of its treatment plant as an example and so must be Burlington.

This type of “go it alone” approach to flood control is perhaps the most irresponsible of any of the scenarios stated in this paper.  Go-it-alone efforts, which detract from trust & respect with voters and other governmental bodies at all levels of government, should be an absolute final resort before doing nothing and setting the table for tragedy.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index)

Arguably, the cities of Mt. Vernon and Burlington have the worst land use planning in the State of Washington with respect to development in floodplains.  Developing in the floodplain isn’t the wisest of ideas.  Exhibit A: New Orleans.  Exhibit B: Chehalis & Centralia.  Since 1962 the amount of damages that would be incurred during a major flood event has went from an estimated $6,000,000 (Source 8/23/62 B.J.) to now over $3,000,000,000 of development and infrastructure is at risk (Source:  Corps of Engineers 1/22/2003).  Which now begs the question, should multi-million dollar flood control projects be used as the reward for bad local land use planning?  Should local governments be rewarded by the taxpayers of our country, state or for that matter even the county for trashing the SEPA, SMA, GMA, or local regulations mandated by the NFIP?  Should the taxpayers foot the bill for governments on all levels not enforcing regulations?  Even FEMA, perhaps the most maligned federal agency in our country’s history has admitted that it bears some of the responsibility for the mismanagement of the Skagit River floodplain, “Certainly FEMA bears some responsibility for the increased flood damage potential in the Skagit Valley.  . . .  we are dealing with several generations of bad land-use decisions, coupled with a muddled and complex political environment.”  (Source:  FEMA e-mail dated 10/15/2001)  Which begs the question, “If government created the situation shouldn’t government work together to fix it?  God didn’t build $3,000,000,000 worth of development and infrastructure on the bottom of a river, man did.  God didn’t promulgate regulations and then refuse to enforce them, government did.  Thus, once again, the severity of the flooding events in Skagit County are not an Act of God but and act of man.  Those responsible should be held accountable for their actions.  (See The Realities of Flood Control in Skagit County)

The Anacortes Water Treatment Plant is a key player in securing federal dollars.  It is a project of nationwide significance just like the closing of Interstate 5 is arguably an issue of nationwide and yes even international significance.  Tying those two together should be used to help the entire floodplain, not just one or two cities whose city employees are arguably in bed with an unscrupulous consultant which will only end up in a public vote with those city employees having PIE on their face and the citizens without the protection they need.

Here is how this could play out.  Let us say the City of Burlington employees go out on their own and listening to an unscrupulous consultant, sets out to build a ring dike (levee) around its City.  Really?  The residents of Burlington got to vote on a project that will have major implications on their property, when?  Moreover, it was explained to the residents of Burlington that when the levee breaks or when the designed flood level (the 100 year flood) is exceeded that they will fill up like a bathtub much like Fir Island did in 1990, . . . when exactly was that explained to them?  In addition, with respect to the financing, will the City of Burlington expect all the residents of Skagit County to contribute to their foolish pursuit of worship to the great gods of Commerce through their property taxes?  Will the ring dike/levee be used to further remove and turn into used car parking lots more prime farmland acreage from production under the guise of flood control?  When the citizens of Skagit County get to vote on approval of spending their tax money on the City of Burlington, will the benefits to the citizens equal that of the City or will the City be receiving a windfall contribution to their great god of commerce? 

Oh yeah, and then there is that whole argument of how such a project could harm surrounding areas that evidently the City doesn’t feel it has any obligation towards either legally, ethically or morally for induced flooding in not only the 100 year event but from the 50 to 100 year events, but of course still wants their property tax money to forward their projects.  And what about the Dike District Commissioners, have they asked for their 500 million dollar bond yet from the City of Burlington to hold them harmless and indemnify them for recklessly endangering the lives of the citizens when the levees break and all those who live behind them who relied on that false sense of security suffer induced damages from the levee failure when their bathtub fills up?  Needless to say, going it alone is not the answer and will only end up in defeat at the voting booth.

7.     Get the state as a funding partner to the same extent as Lewis County did, with similar Fed support.

This as a team effort, not an individual effort, is a laudable goal.  After all, it can be argued that it was the Washington State Department of Transportation (“WSDOT”) by their irresponsible location of the I-5 freeway compounded by their irresponsible method of construction, which was designed to overtop as it was in Lewis County, which exasperated the flooding conditions in Skagit and Lewis County’s.  It was not the floodwaters that shut down the Interstate in Lewis County, it was the design engineers of WSDOT who in the 1960’s were told by the Corps of Engineers that their design was deficient and chose to ignore the advice.  The design of I-5 has in fact induced flooding east of the interstate in Mt. Vernon and Burlington.  The State of Washington is by default a major player just like the local city planning departments are major players when it comes to promoting development and damages due to locating residences and commerce in harms way and causing induced flooding.  So yes, by all means, Skagit Valley should pursue state and federal funding.  The downside to this is that local governments are going to have to start playing by state and federal rules and regulations, something that as stated they have not had a stellar reputation of doing.  In the interim, they should be addressing the funding of flood control projects by local means so that if/when state or federal funding is available that they will be able to match those funds with local money or in the alternative if the state and federal funds are not forthcoming then proceed as in a basin wide approach to solving this most pressing and persistent problem.

8.     What really needs to happen, if anything, with the Three Bridges?

Not knowing if this is only half a question or another mis-stated question it can be answered very simply.  The three bridge corridor needs to be widened and two if not three of the bridges need to widened and/or modified to handle more flow, and arguably the BNSF bridge needs to be replaced although it can be shown by hydraulic modeling that the bridge is not responsible for backing up substantial floodwaters.  The key to flood control in our lower valley is now and has been since at least 1922, is to get the water past the City of Burlington, not artificially store it upstream as has been the case for the last 89 years, and get rid of the water before it gets to Mt. Vernon.  (See GNRR letter and Robert Herzog Report 9/26/1922, Historical Record of the Avon By-Pass Proposal (1921-2004), Plan B Presentation, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad: The Worst Corporate Neighbor In Skagit County History.

9.     From a river system perspective, how can anyone claim “harm” as everything is happening on the land side of the current dike system?

How can anyone claim, “harm”?  Actually, it is pretty easy to claim, “harm”.  The current levee system provides arguably 30 to 40 year protection.  Anything happening on the “land side” of the levee including building new levees which arguably are in violation of federal NFIP regulations, will have impacts to someone in any event larger then 50 to 100 year events.  The “new levees” will redirect flood flows away from their natural course just as the old levees do now. 

The answer to this scenario was perhaps best stated by a former Colonel of the Corps of Engineers:  ...I also realize that for every change man makes to a river’s levee system, a change in the river may result. ... Neither I nor my staff want to do something that will make the problem worse ...     Donald T. Wynn, Colonel, Corps of Engineers, District Commander, Seattle District, letter to Leonard Halverson dated 10/15/96

The upstream impacts of the current levee system are shown below and clearly show the “harm” the levee system has done over the years.  The numbers indicate how much water was stored between and upstream of the levees that God never intended to be there:

So how would you have answered the Skagit FACT 9?  If you would be so kind as to block and paste the following “Scenarios” into an e-mail or a Word document and share your thoughts I would greatly appreciate it and you would be providing a great community service by letting your views be known.  Send the e-mail to larry@skagitriverhistory.com.  Put “Scenarios” in your subject line.  I will print your responses next month.  If you do not want your name to be known please just sign your answers with “Anonymous” and I will honor that request.  After all, this is about ideas, not personalities.  Here are the Skagit FACT Scenarios:

What is wrong with this scenario?

1.     Need to assure a neutral or better yet positive affect on local fisheries.

2.     Forget the GI Study, too slow and little/no $$$ anyway.  Focus GI Study on the Baker River system.

3.     BUT we want more Baker River system storage, the maximum available.

4.     Focus on supporting Burlington and Dike 12 efforts to setback and raise dike. Focus on supporting Mount Vernon’s downtown flood protection efforts.  Focus on developing a solution for Riverside Drive/College Way/Freeway Drive.

5.     Keep other areas at current protection level and let the water go where it will in Sterling, Avon, etc.  Likely not an enormous impact, what 1-3 feet spread over the flood plain with more water in low spots?

6.     Let Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes protect their near-river infrastructure, both of which are utility oriented and supported by specific rate payers.  Mount Vernon is taking care of its treatment plant as an example and so must be Burlington.

7.     Get the state as a funding partner to the same extent as Lewis County did, with similar Fed support.

8.     What really needs to happen, if anything, with the Three Bridges?

9.     From a river system perspective, how can anyone claim “harm” as everything is happening on the land side of the current dike system?

LET’S DO IT OURSELVES.  LET’S 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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