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August 2008

EDITORIAL

THE LEGACY – I WONDER

It occurred to me that we should be asking the question, “What is the legacy we are leaving behind for future generations with respect to the flood control issue?”  A series of comments made within recent weeks both in personal communications received from local officials and self appointed developer activists of “ad hoc” committees and recent events published in local news media has me wondering, like so many before me, (Editors Mt. Vernon Herald January 10, 1918 Mt. Vernon Herald Editorial, John Finstead 3/20/24 Mt. Vernon Argus, Editors of the Courier Times 11/17/32 C.T., Editors of the Skagit Argus 1/14/1982), Congressman Al Swift, Skagit Valley Herald, 1/27/1982, Lloyd Johnson, Skagit County Engineer, SVH 3/23/78, County Commissioner Howard Miller (See December 2006 Angry Citizen) the list is really too long to do it justice here) is anything ever going to happen on the flood control issue, if yes what will be the legacy of those projects and will the voting public be allowed to have a say in how to fund flood control.

The City of Burlington has recently publicly announced that it is going it alone with respect to flood control. (See Determination of Significance and Request for CommentsThe City of Mt. Vernon has made no secret about its plans for flood control for its economic development of its downtown area.  (See City of Mount Vernon Flood Management Efforts, and Master Plan June 11, 2008 Presentation).  The sole purpose of both of these communities’ actions appears to be to take their communities “out of the 100-year floodplain”.

By taking this action, I wonder if Mt. Vernon and Burlington plan on paying for it themselves are or they going to backdoor the taxpayers of Skagit County for their property taxes through the Skagit Countywide Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee (FCZD).   It is pretty clear that Mt. Vernon, Burlington, and County Public Works staff have been working for over 3 years to get at the property taxes of all Skagit County residents.  (See Skagit Countywide Flood Control District – An Evolution In Progress)

As a member of that committee, I can assure you that unless the voters of Skagit County get the right to vote on having their property taxes raised to pay for the economic development of Mt. Vernon and Burlington I will vote against it.  I feel very strongly about this issue and would urge all taxpayers in the upcoming election to reject any County Commissioner candidate who does not publicly state that they will receive voter approval before raising property taxes for flood control.

The reason I am sounding the alarm on this voting issue is that as far back as 1996, the county commissioner at that time at a meeting with the Corps was quoted as saying, “Don’t recommend a project so large it requires a vote of the citizens of Skagit Co- stay within the limit of the Commissioner’s authority.  (See Mfr Subject: Meetings On Skagit Flood Control Study).  When I was promoting (See Plan B) a member of the Skagit County Public Works Department asked, “What do we do if the voters say no?”  No is not a difficult word to understand.  It only has two letters.  If the voters say no then government should not be cramming down the throats what it wants to do.  Public Service employees are public servants not public masters.  If the voters say no then it will be yet another tribute to the failure of government employees to properly handle the most important issue facing Skagit County.

Recently in a personal communication the self-appointed guru of Skagit FACT stated, “The voters will never vote to approve funding for a major flood-control project with the possible exception of Burlington voters approving something Burlington specific.”  So for the moment lets assume he is right although in 1979 the Burlington voters rejected the flood control project like 73% of the rest of Skagit County.  Should that give the development community the right to disregard the voter sediments and use their private property tax money to further give them the ability to put even more big box stores and residential development in the bottom of the river.  The next statement he made was even more alarming and perhaps telling:  “Skagit FACT can do whatever it wants, that’s the cool thing about an ad hoc group.”  Yeah, really cool.

A high ranking Burlington staff member recently sent me an e-mail in which he stated, “I don't believe there has ever been a successful vote for flood control.”  Successful where?  In Skagit County?  They have only been allowed to vote twice.  Once it was approved but overturned by the Courts (See 10/24/35 Argus, 11/15/35 B.J., 11/20/35 MVDH, 11/20/35 MVDH, 11/29/35 B.J, 11/28/35 C.H., 12/2/35 MVDH, 12/4/35 MVDH (“Only 2,688 voters out of 12, 754 took the time to vote.  1,901 in favor, 767 against. . . . All cities voted in favor of District except Anacortes which was not included in District boundaries.”), 12/6/35 B.J. (Timber companies sue to overturn flood control district), 1/22/36 MVDH, 3/9/36 MVDH (“Because the residents derived no benefit, it was error to include their lands.   Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. v. Banker, 186 Wash. 332 (Wash., 1936).  By the terms "benefits" and "to be benefited," it is meant that the landowner has received, or will receive, by reason of the improvement, an increase in the market value of his property. Union Trust Co. v. Carnhope Irr. Dist., 132 Wash. 538, 232 P. 341, 234 P. 277; Butte v. School Dist. No. 1, 29 Mont. 336, 74 P. 869.)  Another countywide district was proposed in 1939 but was scuttled by the State Attorney Generals Office (See 6/1/39 CT).

The other time the citizens of Skagit County were allowed to vote was in 1979.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical IndexIt is my strong belief that it was handled in the same reckless manner that Mt. Vernon and Burlington are handling it now.  In several communities around the country, they have had successful flood control votes.  But those votes were conducted in a spirit of cooperation, openness to public observation, always in the vein of protecting the general safety health and welfare of the community at large, not the hell with the voters we’re going to do it the government staff way.

I have nothing against Mt. Vernon or Burlington and share their frustration with the Corps of Engineers “process” and that it is a “process” designed to fail.  Without funding from Congress, the Corps can do nothing for us.  If we want flood control, we are going to have to pay for it ourselves and receive some matching funds from state and federal agencies.  The mantra of this entire web site is “Lets Do It Ourselves, Lets Do It Now”.  But that mantra is based on achieving voter approval of any plan put forward either by the FCZD or local governments.  Ethically I cannot support a plan that allows 34% of the public to achieve financial gain (i.e. lower if any flood insurance rates and higher property values especially for commercial/developer interest), and 66% of the public who receive no financial benefit to their properties receiving the bill.  Further Mt. Vernon and Burlington city staff need to “Get a Life” and realize that it is they and their predecessors that created this problem.  The threat from the mighty Skagit has remained constant and well documented since at least 1895 (See 10/21/1895 The Skagit News and Skagit River History).  Indeed, in 1991 the former Director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote the following:

The November floods in 1989 and 1990 make it very clear many Skagit County residents live in harms way.  People along the Sauk River, in Hamilton, Cape Horn, Thunderbird, Shangri-La, Cockerham Island, and Fir island know that all too well. Many others in the lower valley who are "protected" by dikes may become complacent that their homes and businesses are safe. However, dike failures at Fir Island are a drastic reminder that being safe may not be possible on the Skagit River flood-plain.  Yet, people continue to be allowed to build subdivisions, and shopping malls.  Local governments control development, and the decision is clear in their mind that perceived benefits to the local economy outweigh the risks incurred in further building in the floodplain. . . .(Source: Letter from Director Joseph R. Blum, July 1, 1991)

Since 1991 how many millions if not billions of dollars of infrastructure and big box stores have been built in the cities of Mt. Vernon and Burlington?  Step up to the plate Mt. Vernon and Burlington.  Get a life.  The first step is to admit that you have made mistakes and you need our help in correcting those mistakes.  The first step is not bitch slapping the taxpayers who had nothing to do with your terrible land use practices.

What I have told staff on numerous occasions is that one of the things I bring to the table is to try and prevent a reoccurrence of the 1979 flood control voting disaster.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index).  With the exception of one staff member from Burlington, none of the current city staff were here in 1979.  Nor do the majority of them involved in the flood issue live in the floodplain (I wonder why that is?).

On many occasions, both in public and private meetings with City staff, as well as on this web page (See Sept 2006 and April 2008 Angry Citizen editorials) I have asked the question, “What are you willing to do, what are you willing to provide, what are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do for the 66% of the people who do not live in the floodplain?  Never once have staff answered that question.  Never once have they stepped up to the plate and offered anything but the bill.

Further, I wonder if Burlington and Mt. Vernon, assuming they can provide 100 year protection, will allow building with no elevation requirements so that when they have a 250 year event the new owners can experience 8 feet of water in their buildings?  Other people along the Mississippi went through similar circumstances in their last event: 

Parks didn’t worry when water began creeping up the levee that shields this town of about 750 from the Mississippi River — not even when volunteers began piling on sandbags.  After all, local officials had assured townspeople in 1999 that the levee was sturdy enough to withstand a historic flood, and FEMA had agreed. In fact, some relieved homeowners dropped their flood insurance, and others applied for permits to build new houses and businesses.   Then on Tuesday, the worst happened: The levee burst and Gulfport was submerged in 10 feet of water. Only 28 property owners were insured against the damage.  “They all told us, ‘The levees are good. You can go ahead and build,”’ said Parks, who did not buy flood coverage because her bank no longer required it. “We had so much confidence in those levees.”  Around the country, thousands of residents who relied on risk maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may unknowingly face similar dangers.  “People put all their hopes in those levees, and when they do fail, the damage is catastrophic,” said Paul Osman, the National Flood Insurance Program coordinator for Illinois. “New Orleans is the epitome; a lot of those people didn’t even realize they were in a floodplain until the water was up to their roofs.”  . . .  FEMA said it is up to Congress to decide whether everyone whose home could be swamped by a breach of a levee or dam should be required to buy flood insurance.  Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has sponsored a bill passed by the Senate that would require just that.  It would also require FEMA to assess the risks more accurately.  Homeowners and businesses behind levees or downstream of dams “are often unaware of the risks to their properties” and so don’t buy flood insurance, Dodd said.  “When these manmade structures fail, the effects can be dangerous and devastating,” he said in a statement.  (Source:  Flood victims feel misled by FEMA, By TAMMY WEBBER and MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER Associated Press Writers, June 20, 2008)

I wonder if every piece of property within Mt. Vernon and Burlington’s floodplain will have the information that larger floods may overwhelm the "100 year certified levees" put on their deeds?

I wonder how taking Mt. Vernon and Burlington out of the 100 year flood plain will impact the Corps GI study or is the consultant finally going to get the Corps out of Skagit County like he originally intended several years ago?  (See Concerns about Pacific International Engineering (PIE), Document requested by the Mayor of Mt. Vernon earlier this year.)

I wonder if someday city staff will wake up and realize that a consultant has played them like a fine tuned fiddle.  Creating controversy because controversy creates work and work creates fat bank accounts derived from taxpayer dollars especially when all they have to do is to tell the city staff what they want to hear.

I wonder why there is a need for the FCZD if Mt. Vernon and Burlington "go it alone".  Oh yeah, there is that whole make all the taxpayers in the County pay for their profits thing.  Follow the money because its always about the money.

I wonder how the voters will feel about forcing more water into the Samish River basin or backing up water to Sedro-Woolley, two issues that were voted down in 1979. 

I wonder is this the legacy we leave Skagit County’s future? 

If the courage of integrity is defined as:  The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity.  Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity.  Those are the choices that measure your life.  Travel the path of integrity without looking back, for there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. (Author unknown)

And the essence of character is defined as:  Your true character is revealed by the clarity of your convictions.  The choices you make and the promises you keep.  Hold strongly to your principles and refuse to follow the currents of convenience. (Author unknown)

If the above definitions are correct then I feel that the responses from the ad hoc committee and the county and city staff fails to meet either definition.  By using the backdoor approach on the taxpayers through the FCZD they can hardly be accused of traveling the path of integrity but rather one of following the currents of convenience.  Let the voters endorse the projects and the financing.  Be that ring dikes, overflow spillways (See 1/4/18 B.J., 1/10/18 MVH), more storage behind the dams, whatever.  Let them choose between property taxes and sales taxes or in the worse case scenario, no taxes.  It is the voters and the property owners who are in charge of the government, not municipal staff members or ad hoc committees.

 

LETS DO IT OURSELVES!!  LETS DO IT NOW!!  LETS DO IT WITH VOTER APPROVAL!!

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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