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December 2008 Ask the Angry Citizen

EDITORIAL

2008 – A YEAR END REVIEW

 

THE WEB PAGE

The web page continues to be an enigma to me.  As I have written many times, in the beginning I thought that if we had 500 visitors a year to the web page that it would be a success.  In 2007, we were averaging 65 individual visits per day.  In 2008 that figure rose to 80 individual visits per day.  During 2008, we averaged almost 2,000 unique visitors (i.e. individual computers) a month with the high being August (3,436) and the low being February (1,516).  If you add in the number of individual users that visit the site multiple times, the average per month goes to 2,540 visits per month.  Over 37 gigabytes of information has been downloaded during 2008.  An increase in bankers, consultants, mortgage companies, law firms and developers is encouraging along with the continued use by environmentalists, federal, state and even once in awhile-local government agencies.  I hope that local government and consultants they hire are going to realize that they can save themselves a lot of time and the taxpayers a lot of money if they would visit www.skagitriverhistory.com before they give public presentations or pleadings to the Court or prepare work product for public consumption.  Again, as in previous years, thank you for making this labor of love a rewarding experience.

2008 – FLOOD ISSUE REVIEW

Hydrology

2008 saw some of the same issues put forth as in 2007.  Hydrology still seems to be a point of contention even though the overwhelming body of evidence gathered proves that Mr. Stewart’s “estimates” in 1923 were “overly conservative.”  (See nhc Re-Evaluation of the Magnitude of Historic Floods on the Skagit River Near Concrete - Final Report; PIE Skagit River Basin Hydrology Report  Existing Conditions, Appendices also available)  Once again, USGS simply refuses to admit that they could have made a mistake for the last eight decades.  (See Mark Mastin Letter, Re: 1921 Flood Datum I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the “estimates” they are using are wrong when compared to our local history.  History, not their “inexact science” which incorporates a 25% error factor should count for more than what it does.  If your airplane pilot lands your plane within 25% of the runway, would that be acceptable to you?

Skagit County Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee

This year saw the activation of the Skagit County Flood Control Zone District (“District”).  A District that I personally am not so much opposed to as much as I thought there was a better option.  Mainly because the County does not own any flood control projects and the main statutory funding available for the District is to raise property taxes on all our residents.  Something I am absolutely opposed to.  (See Plan B Presentation).  Due to a total lack of cooperation on the part of Skagit County Public Works Department staff at the time, Plan B was never seriously compared to the District nor had any analysis been presented to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners as it was clear staff had been leaning towards the District activation for some time.  (See Skagit Countywide Flood Control District – An Evolution In Progress

In May of this year, the County Commissioners’ appointed me to serve as an “At Large” member of the 15 member Advisory Committee (“Committee”) for the District.  It is a position that I take with a great deal of pride and responsibility.  I am the only member of the committee that does not represent a specific geographical area, diking or drainage district, city or town, environmental or conservation group, Tribe, state agency, local business people, or other special interest group.  The two most important driving issues for the committee to accomplish are the safety of the 33% of our residents who have chosen so poorly, where to place their highways, businesses, homes, and that whatever recommendation from the Committee goes forward to the County Commissioners, that all the people of Skagit County get the opportunity to vote on that recommendation.  All of the documents that the committee has reviewed/generated to date are posted on-line for your perusal.  (See Skagit County Flood Control Zone Advisory Committee)

The End Game

The work/responsibility of the Committee is at times nothing short of daunting.  However, it’s not like we haven’t been here before.  Flood control/flood damage reduction/flood risk management, has been the single most elusive goal for the people of Skagit County since the first white man settled in the valley.  The membership of the first flood control committee formed in 1922 (See 1/5/22   Argus, 1/12/22  Argus, 3/4/22 C.H.) quickly realized that the people of the valley “. . .  will have meetings for some time figuring on dredging and straightening the channel, but in the end nothings come out of it.  (See 3/20/24  Argus).  Ironically, it was the first flood control committee that put Mr. Stewart into play.  (See 11/9/22  Argus)

The current committee is charged with providing advice on the Skagit River Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan as well as evaluating the Corps 32 “Flood Control Measures.”  (See Skagit River Flood Damage Reduction Study Preliminary Measures Presentation, Video is also available from Skagit21).  As stated in the previous paragraph, it’s not like we haven’t been here before.  In July 2001, the County Commissioners formed the Skagit River Risk Management Working Group.  It was a very well organized, well-orchestrated attempt to arrive at a flood risk management project.  Sixty documents associated with that committees work product are published for your perusal at Skagit River Risk Management Working Group.  Projects that were evaluated by that committee included the following: 

Alternatives from the September 14th Brainstorming Session

1. Do nothing.

2. Increasing levee height, such as raising the Francis Road for 10 to 15-year protection and providing an outlet for Nookachamps Creek.

3. Setting back levees, where levees are moved back 500 feet, 1000 feet or some increment that provides more back flow.  An example is the 500-foot set back of levees for Diking District 12 and 17.

4. Overtopping levees, where levees are identified as preferred for overtopping. These levees will be purposely left lower or designed to overflow. The levees would either be hardened for overtopping and/or given shallow back slopes to prevent catastrophic failure.

5. Constructing a floodway bypass. For example a floodway could be built across big bend such that flow returns to the river.

6. Developing a floodway outlet, such as the Avon Bypass where flow is permanently diverted from the river. Another option is to construct a floodway outlet across Fir Island adjacent to Dry Slough where there are no buildings (West side). Each of these floodway outlets would require a controlled inlet but the outlet would be optional. The floodway could be defined and limited by constructing a channel bordered with dikes or a bermed floodway with minimal excavation that permits land use within the berms.

7. Creating a sand plug levee for a tidal sea gate as opposed to a low section levee for over topping or a gated structure. A sand plug levee is composed of a hardened section that is built to withstand flow velocities and a weaker section.

8. Constructing ring dike levees around Conway, Burlington, Mt Vernon and West Mt Vernon. Other developed areas may also need ring dike protection.

9. Developing sea dike outlet structures, such as Fir Island, Padilla Bay and Samish Bay.  Examples include flap gates for one-way flow, barn door gates for two-way flow at low tide and sand plugs.

10. Opening existing floodways, such as Gages and Britt Sloughs.

11. Constructing cross dikes that protect areas such as downtown Mt Vernon from being back flooded from the South.

12. Opening protected areas to flooding (levee removal).

13. Excavating channel section, where bench is excavated within the floodplain to allow the river more flow within the confines of the setback levees.

14. Ring diking the towns for a 100-year flood event and leaving the remainder of the levees at a 35-year flood stage. In addition, overtopping will be allowed at strategic places, such as District Line Road, above Burlington; Pulver Road, below the freeway bridge; and Donnelly Road, above West Mount Vernon.

15. Additional items mentioned during the brainstorming session include:

A. Setting back levees across river from Britt Slough

B. Overtopping levees on both sides of North Fork by Beaver Marsh Road

C. Opening Brown and Hall Sloughs

D. Cutting point in river above Burlington

E. Overtopping or drain structures in levees adjacent to Conway (to drain West)

16. Excavating both sides of river at Mt. Vernon to open up the channel and raising the bridge approaches.

17. Establishing flood protection for Lyman, Hamilton and Cape Horn. (Added by Stephen Pierce)

(See 12/8/2000 EI e-mail to WG)

From the above long list of possible alternatives, the committee narrowed it down to seven.  The seven alternatives included: a large Swinomish diversion (Avon By-Pass approach); a smaller Swinomish diversion combined with levee setbacks; overtopping; selected overtopping with ring dikes; levee setbacks; a Samish diversion; and a northern Swinomish diversion along Highway 20.

After one year of meetings “from the perspective of those in the Working Group, the two most interesting flood risk management alternatives for further study and design are levee setbacks to accommodate a 100-year flood and a diversion to take the floodwater into the Swinomish Channel.”  . . .  The Working Group understands that the County will continue to consult the public and consider information from resource agencies.  Nonetheless, the Working Group agreed that these two design concepts hold promise and suggested that the County study them further for the purpose of the EIS analysis.  The Working Group participants expressed appreciation that the County has solicited and is considering their input as the County and the Corps move ahead with planning and further public consultation.  (See 7/24/2001 Draft Executive Summary of WG Efforts)

The government agencies have had this entire work product for the past 6 years, spending millions on God knows what and why are we now being asked once again to “evaluate ‘new’ measures”?  In 2002, we paid the consultant $175,000 to “help” the committee.  (See County e-mail re consulting services)  Our current contract with the consultants helping the Committee is for $300,000.  While the consultants are very professional and it is a pleasure working with them, we are spending excessively on consultants.  There is no reason why we can’t do the majority of this work ourselves, although admittedly it will take a lot more effort on the part of committee members and sub-committee members than has been shown over the last 6 months.

Nevertheless, I digress.  This section was supposed to be about how we reach the end game, but I’m a big believer that as the old saying goes, “You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”  Attitudes and commitment of the Committee members must change.  The sub-committees have been a major source of disappointment.  Some have not even had quorums at their meetings.

The Land Use Sub-Committee has yet to produce even a list of all the federal, state, or local regulations that any flood control project either local or federal will have to abide by.  Let alone do any kind of analysis on permits that were or were not issued since 1990 (i.e. fill for shopping malls, fill in the floodway by the diking districts).  Surely, the cumulative impact of all that landfill east of Interstate 5 would be something that should have been analyzed in some if not all of the permits issued.

The Environmental Sub-Committee has yet to identify a single “fish project” that it would consider as major mitigation as an offset to any proposed flood risk reduction project.

The Dike and Drainage Sub-Committee while putting forth more effort then the other two committees continually shoots itself in the foot by making public statements like “We don’t need to be micro-managed,” or “nobody is going to tell us what to do.”  This is the same “good ole boy” mentality that helped kill the 1979 levee improvement project.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index)

Unless we present a unified community effort, this Committee like all those who have went before it will fail again.  We cannot continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Statements like those of a LaConner city councilman at the last meeting stating that, “LaConner has adopted the “Screw You Jack” approach to flood control.  They have set aside money and will take care of themselves.”  Admirable approach taking care of yourselves, however what will be the consequences to your neighbors?  Rumor has it that Anacortes too has taken the approach that they can remedy the only dog in the hunt they have in this process, their water treatment plant.  Why its taken them so long to do that boggles the imagination.  If property taxes are used to fund the District, they will be asking: Why are our citizens being taxed to subsidize Burlington and Mt. Vernon developers; why are we being taxed on our property when we don’t receive the same benefits; very legitimate questions.  The answer of which will include defeating all current efforts to arrive at the flood risk reduction goal.

I guess this means they are not interested in funding from the District and perhaps LaConner should give up their seat on the Land Use Committee as well as their seat on the Advisory Committee since their Mayor has been absent more then he has been present.  Then there is the Mt. Vernon Mayor who after having two motions defeated at the second meeting has yet to attend another meeting.  Granted the City Engineer is at most of the meetings however, the Mayor has refused to give him his proxy to vote on the Advisory Committee.  This lack of commitment is surprising given what is at stake for both communities.  If we continue with the Screw You Jack” approach to flood risk management the whole issue for the taxpayers of Skagit County is going to be why should we spend our tax money, be it property tax or sales tax, on bailing out the terrible land use practices of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Burlington and Mt. Vernon.  All three are directly responsible for promoting growth in what has been labeled many times as the most dangerous floodplain on the west coast of America.  Mt. Vernon is a prime candidate for the hypocrite of the year award by issuing permits for a Wal-Mart Super Store in their floodplain this year while at the same time asking for money from Washington State taxpayers to alleviate their flood risk.  Flood Risk Reduction should not be the reward for bad land use decisions.  Either you have a flood problem or you don’t.  And if you do you shouldn’t be making the damages worse.

2009 is very well the last chance year to put together a responsible approach to flood risk reduction – as in a cooperative, coordinated and comprehensive plan that includes serious flood risk reduction, farmland preservation and environmental enhancement, and most importantly receiving a consensus opinion from the voters of Skagit County.  If failure is once again the end game, we have only ourselves to blame.

2008 – Report Card on Flood Control

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

ANNUAL REPORT CARD ON FLOOD CONTROL -- 2008

Entity

2006 Grade

2007 Grade

2008
Grade

Justification

US Army Corps of Engineers

D+

F-

D+

The Corps while having many dedicated employees continues to be a major disappointment not only here in the Valley but across the nation as well.  The process is broken and never leads to workable, fundable solutions.  It’s process is a process designed to fail and needs serious revisions from the U.S. Congress.

FEMA

F

F

C

FEMA has accepted the PIE and nhc reports and has taken them under advisement.  Maybe, and based on past performance it’s a pretty big maybe, we will finally get a serious review of historical flood “estimates” and determine that they are too conservative, however we must not lose sight of the fact that because you have 100-year protection doesn’t mean that you won’t have a 250-year flood.  FEMA’s process, as well as the Corps’, needs serious Congressional review.

FERC

F

F

F

Same reason as the last two years.  Approving the Baker River Relicensing process with 180 million dollars for the environment and ZERO as in nothing for flood risk reduction, 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-

C

The County given the horrific conditions it has inherited from the last 100 years is probably doing the best it can.  Where the pedal hits the medal will be when the public determines if the efforts bring about real change or be more of the same with respect to how we have mismanaged our volcanic flood plain.  In short, will the “Screw You Jack” approach prevail or will it be rejected?

SRIP

D+

F

X

It is seemingly now defunct unless it is still meeting behind closed doors.

SKAGIT FACT

n/a

F

F

Skagit FACT lost a lot of credibility in 2008.  There are some very responsible members of the business community associated with this organization, however they must realize that it is they who are the problem, and it is they that must be part of the solution.  Any plan that is based on 100 yr protection for economic growth resulting in construction flat on the ground is a plan of reckless endangerment and should not be acceptable to the general populace.  (See Editorial: The Legacy– I Wonder)

TRIBES

F

F

C-

The fact that the Tribes are participating in the FCZD process is a sign of progress.  Now if only they would show some real concern about how they are prepared to enhance fishery resources and give back to Mother Earth, then we could really make some progress to healing old wounds of distrust and enhancing the environment.

USFW

F

F

F

Did nothing positive in 2008 towards making positive suggestions to how flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration can work hand in hand.

USGS

F-

F

F-

Given the overwhelming body of evidence that the Stewart “estimates” are highly conservative and the 1897 and 1909 floods couldn’t have possibly have been as serious as Stewart says they were, and USGS’s continuing refusal to recognize and react to that body of work they continue to remain an embarrassment to the scientific community. 

WSDOT

 

 

F

WSDOT is largely responsible for promoting growth where only farmers should have been allowed to prosper.  WSDOT is solely responsible for induced flooding east of Interstate 5.  WSDOT totally bungled a chance to properly manage the BNSF bridge.  WSDOT at one time had legitimate concerns about building highways in floodplains (See 4/26/2001 WG Minutes), however now have seemingly abandoned any semblance of responsible land use policies.

2009—What Must Be Done?

I’m almost to the point of saying that if you have to be told what must be done then you haven’t paid attention to any of our history for the last 111 years.  As well as not paying attention to any of the previous editorials I have written.  Look people, this is not rocket science.  You don’t have to be a hydraulic engineer to realize that water is wet, it flows downhill and you should not be placing 3 billion dollars worth of urban infrastructure on the bottom of rivers.  This is especially true of volcanic floodplains like the Skagit with two active earthquake faults and two active volcanoes in its river basin.  Is that really so difficult to understand?

So too is it really so difficult to understand that for the Upper Skagit Valley the only viable project that will help them is a change in the operational procedures of the Puget and Seattle City Light Dams?  Why is it so difficult to understand that the only viable project in the Lower Valley is get the water past the City of Burlington and get rid of it 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, if you are truly interested in preserving the farmland legacy of previous generations for future generations the fact that your land is still subject to flooding is your strongest ally.  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 2009 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.”  Is that really the legacy we want to leave behind?  Paving over paradise to put up a used car parking lot is not a legacy of responsibility; it is a legacy of greed and selfishness, founded in the “Screw You Jack” philosophy.

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).  Happy New Year!!

 The Angry Citizen

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