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December 2010

EDITORIAL

2010 – A YEAR END REVIEW

 

THE WEB PAGE

The web page continues, at least in my mind, to be way more of a success then I ever imagined it to be.  We are continuing an average of a little over 80 visitors a day (yearly, 97 for the month of December) and about 2,500 per month (3,000 for December).  A little over 48 gigabytes of information have been downloaded this year as of the writing of this editorial, which is about 11 gigabytes more than last year.  We compiled a list of Documents Posted in 2010 on www.SkagitRiverHistory.com .  The list shows that we published 121 historical documents and 123 documents created this year. 

Visitors just for the month of December included, but are certainly not limited to,  federal agencies (FEMA Region X, FEMA Headquarters VA, Corps of Engineers –including districts all over the country, NOAA, US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife, US Parks Service, US Dept of Agriculture and my good friends at USGS); state agencies (Dept of Ecology, WSDOT, WSDF&W, Northwest Clean Air Agency, as well as the Department of Natural Resources in Ohio); universities, colleges and schools in general (University of Washington, Western Washington University, Washington State University, Oregon State University, Skagit Valley Community College, University of Puget Sound, San Jose State University, Stanwood-Camano School District, Federal Way Public Schools, Chapman University, Minnesota State University, Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, University California Davis, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research); local governments (Skagit County, Burlington, Mt. Vernon, Sedro-Woolley, Anacortes, Seattle, Seattle City Light, Stanwood, Ellensburg, Mason County); consultants (Cascadia Consulting, AECOM, Mt. Baker Corp., Shannon & Wilson Inc., Charles E. Raines Civil Engineers, Anchor QEA, SNC-Lavalin Engineering, PDC Engineering,); Tribes (Swinomish, Tulalip, Sauk-Suiattle); businesses (Blade Chevrolet, Mt. Vernon Carpet One Floor & Home, Bank of America, PACCAR Inc., Seattle Times, Skagit Valley Herald, Williams and Nulle Certified Public Accounts, Liberty State Bank, Boeing, Tesero Petroleum Corp.).  Most importantly, you, individual citizens seeking information and documentation on what I at least consider one of the most important issues before the people of our county, flood risk reduction.  An issue that doesn’t require rocket science to solve but has been as elusive as it is controversial.

Thank you for your interest.  As always if there is a way you feel the web page can be improved or there is information you could not locate, or you have documents you would like to submit, please do not hesitate to contact me at larry@skagitriverhistory.com.   Our only motivator is the truth, our only justification is proof.  Like the old song says, “You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”  Recommendations made in the 1920’s are still being talked about today.  (See 12/22/21 Argus, 12/22/21 CT, 1/7/22 C.H., and 1/22/22 C.H.)  Sadly, talking is about all that is accomplished since the original flood committee first met in 1922 when they 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)

 

QUOTE OF THE YEAR

               We decided to add a new feature to the end of the year Angry Citizen.  As you know we publish each month a “Quote of the Month”.  In looking over the past 12 months of quotes we decided that last January’s quote would be this year’s winner.  It comes from our neighbors to the south and no truer words have ever been spoken about floodplains in general.

It’s just like, hello, how hard do you have to beat your head against the wall and realize don’t build (develop) in the floodplain,” said Montesano Mayor Ron Schillinger, adding it was also difficult to get behind someone who allows filling in the floodplain. “You can’t create additional problems and then allow (expect) someone to bail you out.

(Source: The Chronicle, Chehalis, Washington,  Twin Cities Hold Out Against Army Corps Plan, November 10, 2009)

               Congratulations Mayor Schillinger, for providing us with this first annual Quote of the Year.  Now if only we could get people like you elected in Mt. Vernon and Burlington maybe we wouldn’t have the distinction of having the worst land use planning in the state of Washington with respect to building in floodplains.

2010 – THE YEAR OF DISAPPOINTMENT

               If I had to sum up the year 2010 with respect to flood risk reduction in two words it would be failure and disappointment.  We seem to pretend issues don’t exist so long as we stick our heads where the sun doesn’t shine and hope they will just go away.  The issues don’t just go away and unless 2011 produces an epiphany of thought processes I feel very strongly that we are well on the road back to and will have the same result as in 1979.  (See 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index)  In that vein we have decided to add yet another new feature to the end of the year update Angry Citizen editorial: 

The Ostrich Award

            The Ostrich Award will be awarded to the entity or individual most deserving of ignoring the issues before it.  For the first annual Ostrich Award it was really a tough decision between the City of Burlington because through its Final Environmental Impact Statement To Adopt A Strategic Program for Comprehensive Flood Hazard Mitigation they managed to ignore every issue raised by citizens and concerned groups and just pretended that the issues didn’t exist.  A tactic that will inevitably lead to litigation over their poorly planned and ridiculously written document.  The Mt. Vernon City engineer was also in the running because he truly believes that when the Budwall bathtub breaks the water in downtown Mt. Vernon will only be 1 foot deep and it will flow out naturally onto the floodplain of which his entire downtown area is in.  Anyone who believes that has to ask themselves the question that if it is only going to be one foot deep why are they spending 26 million dollars to build the Budwall?  Why would you need a Budwall if the water is only going to be one foot deep?  Is the answer that the Budwall is not really about flood protection but about subsidizing downtown developers in order to get around FEMA regulations?  FEMA, USGS, the USACE, the Mayor of Mt. Vernon, for a myriad of issues were also in the running.  However, after much thought and weighing of the evidence presented on this web page during 2010 the winner of the prestigious First Annual Ostrich Award goes to the:

Skagit County Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee

This committee (that I am a member of and accept as much blame as I am about to bestow on the rest of the committee) has been meeting since June 2008.  As stated in 2008 the 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.”  I wrote at length about the committee in the 2008 - A YEAR END REVIEW Sadly, I feel that I could publish that exact same editorial because nothing much has changed.  The committee continues to be fractured between the various special interests at the table mostly resembling turf war mentalities instead of a cooperative effort on behalf of all the county residents.

ISSUES

Tribal Participation

The Tribes, or at least the one that was at the table, showed their contempt for the process by walking away from the table.  It’s a shame that the Tribes continue to allow their white boy representatives to embarrass them at the negotiating table.  While it was talked about at length during committee meetings of inviting the Upper Skagit Tribe to the table, to my knowledge no action has been taken with respect to this issue. The Committee needs to quit playing ostrich and draft a letter (notice I said the committee, not the Public Works Department) for the Skagit County Commissioners to formerly invite the Upper Skagit Tribe to participate.  The Upper Skagit Tribe seems to understand the issues surrounding flood risk reduction far better than their obstructionist counterparts.  (See Upper Skagit Indian Tribe reply to FERC Comprehensive Settlement Agreement). 

Levees Included In Lower Valley Floodway Designation

            As has been documented many times over the last few years, FEMA in 1984 designated the lower valley levees from the landward toe to the landward toe as the floodway in the lower valley.  As such no fill is allowed either riverward, on top of, or landward of the levees themselves.  Obviously this is an issue that needs clarification before not only any project can be proposed but before any repair work can be done on the levees.  The repercussions of this designation should be obvious and of course would be used in any litigation to stop any proposed project.  In the interest of the taxpayers who ultimately bear the cost of litigation isn’t it time that the committee quit playing Ostrich and pretending the evidence doesn’t exist?  Isn’t it time that the committee draft a letter for the County Commissioners and seek clarification from the FEMA DC office on the floodway designation (since Region X ignores its existence) before we spend another 4 million dollars on a GI Study that could be rendered totally useless by Court action referencing these documents?  (See River Issues/ Floodway See specifically ISYS QUERY FLOODWAY, 1981-1984 FEMA-BFE Flood Research, SVH Article re floodway designation devastation, FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS, USACE MFR Re: Skagit River Levee Repairs). 

 

               Then of course there is the whole issue of building a “setback levee” and removing or not removing the current levee from the 3 bridge corridor.  How much brain power does it take to realize that if you build a second levee that you would be raising the BFE more than one foot at that point in your community which would be in strict violation of 44 CFR 60.(3)(c)(10), but when your land use committee doesn’t address land use issues and conforming with codes and regulations I guess that doesn’t matter.  Just do whatever you want to do because nobody really cares or checks your work.  It’s okay that the Public Works Dept. Project Manager, the Dike District, the Dike District attorney, the City of Burlington (with the exception of their Mayor) and WSDOT all have been misleading  the flood control committee and the Advisory Committee for the past 11 years with respect to their plans on the so-called “setback levee” for the three bridge corridor.  Clearly the committee’s original endorsement of this project has to be revisited.  I don’t like being lied to and for that reason alone withdraw all support for the 3 bridge anything and given the fact that when the environmental representatives were discussing setting the levee back and removing the rip rap no one previously mentioned said anything to tell them that wasn’t part of the plan, it was just a ruse to get their support, I would expect the environmental representatives to voice vigorous opposition to the proposal as well as representatives upriver of the 3 bridge corridor.

 

Storage Behind Ross Dam

            As was presented to the Committee in August, it has now been well documented that Stewart’s figures were used by the Corps of Engineers and Seattle City Light at Sedro Woolley to determine how much storage should be provided behind Ross Dam.  (See Presentation: Low Low Water in Puget Sound vs. Mean Sea Level).  We’ve been told many times by USGS, FEMA, and the USACE that the Sedro-Woolley Stewart figures are unreliable with respect to computing flood flows.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if the figures are not to be trusted for computing flood flows that they would be unreliable to compute flood storage?  Unless there is another historical document yet uncovered that shows the computations were changed to use the Concrete figures (which as we all know are a lot higher than the ones at Sedro-Woolley and thus would require more storage) don’t you think it would be in the best interest of the floodplain residents, dike districts, taxpayers, that the committee quits playing ostrich and drafts a letter for the County Commissioners to send to Seattle City Light and the Seattle District USACE to reevaluate the needed storage behind Ross Dam?

Lack of Contribution by the Sub-Committees

            In 2008 the Angry Citizen editorial contained the following three paragraphs:

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)

In 2010 the Land Use sub-committee is still a joke and has contributed nothing to Land Use analysis of permits issued in the floodplain and how that process needs strict enforcement instead of being ignored.  Or even recommendations to laws that they feel need to be changed.  They may as well not be there at all.  They would be more appropriately labeled the Land Useless committee.  They need to look at things like did WSDOT obtain all permits from the City of Burlington for their Burlington Blvd. projects (which has to be one of the most poorly designed intersections in the state).  Did WSDOT perform a hydraulic analysis of their impacts on flood flows as required by 44 CFR 60(3)(c)(10)?  When asked the WSDOT representative replied, “That must be a new requirement.”  Really?  Seriously?  Well since its never been enforced I guess you could call that new if the color of the sky in your world is something else other then blue.

The Environmental Sub-Committee refuses to present or endorse “fish projects” that will enhance the fish runs on the Skagit River.  Two of their members have told me that they only endorse setting back the levees and removing the rip-rap in order that the river can “meander naturally”.  That the area riverward of the levees could still be farmed.  That proposal has been looked at since 1922 and the local farming community has rejected it due to the fact that 5,000 to 8,000 acres of farmland (roughly the size of Fir Island or the Nookachamps) would be lost.  It’s kind of hard to farm land that falls into the “meandering river”.   So long as that remains their one and only option they will accomplish nothing.  You have to remember these are the same people who sold out the floodplain residents with respect to additional storage behind the Baker Dams.  180 million dollars to turn PSE’s dams into fish aquariums but nothing for flood risk/damage reduction.  Instead of working with floodplain residents they worked against them.

The Dike and Drainage sub-committee’s refuse to put forth their immediate needs and plans for the future.  Without those plans they will not be eligible for state funding (as if there is going to be state funding) and the Advisory Committee cannot complete the Comprehensive Plan which is one of its primary functions.  The sub-committee continues to present itself as if they are above the law and show no signs of changing.  This will generate public support how?  They need to start looking at the big picture and what is best for the future generations that will inherit their mistakes.

While we are on the subject of the Skagit River Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan (“CFHMP”), a plan that was supposed to be done well over a year ago, (See Tetra Tech Presentation on Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan Roadmap dated June 9, 2008), a draft plan that at least two of us put in well over 200 hours of research and preparation on, seems to be stalled because certain members of the environmental sub-committee feel that it needs a complete technical rewrite.  Their solution was to recommend that the taxpayers hire a consultant.  I say if it needs a technical rewrite then get off your ass and rewrite the section you feel needs rewriting.  Volunteer your time.  Put forth some effort.  Do some work and leave your whining at home.  One of the more humorous “adamant” suggestions (you could say demands) was that “the entire geology section in Chapter 2 needed to be completely rewritten.”  This despite the fact that it was lifted word for word from the 1961 USGS Water-Supply Paper 1527, and the unpublished work of James E. Stewart in 1923 a/k/a the Stewart Report.  I included that section because it was the first time I was able to find that someone described how the Skagit used to flow south down the Sauk and into the Stillaguamish.  The main objection was that “we no longer use words like epoch (a period of time).  You can review the draft chapters for yourself at  SC FCZD CFHMP Draft.

 One of the main things that is wrong with the current makeup of the Advisory committee is that there are way too many people on the committee that are being paid to be there.  No one should be paid to serve on this committee.  One state agency person stated that he didn’t know if he could continue to participate because attending these meetings wasn’t in his budget.  How about this, we meet on weekends once a month from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  No one gets paid, everyone is a volunteer.  The taxpayer isn’t charged a dime to have a bunch of overpaid bureaucrats sit around and talk, and talk and talk and do nothing and accomplish less.  I promise you that after two or three meetings on weekends things would get done very quickly. 

In 2008 I wrote the following paragraph for the end of the year review:

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.

On this last day of 2010 all I would have to change to the above paragraph would be 2009 to 2011.  And once again we will have only ourselves to blame.  For all the reasons stated above congratulations to the Skagit County Flood Control Zone Advisory Committee as being the most deserving of the first annual Ostrich Award.

 

2010 – Report Card on Flood Risk Reduction

And now the much anticipated annual report card on flood risk reduction.

 

ANNUAL REPORT CARD ON FLOOD RISK REDUCTION -- 2010

Enity

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

Justification

US Army Corps of Engineers

D+

F-

D+

F

F

The USACE GI process needs major overhaul.  Right now it could best be described as a make work program for overpaid government employees.  Yes we are finally on the “fast track” to complete the GI study.  It only took 16 years and ten million wasted dollars to get here.  It’s ridiculous to keep restudying the same river over and over again. (See Skagit River Reports)

FEMA

F

F

C

F

F

 FEMA Region X doesn’t enforce any of their own mandates as part of the NFIP.  Had they done so we wouldn’t have 3 billion dollars of infrastructure at risk.  The NFIP like the Corps GI Process needs a complete overhaul. 

FERC

F

F

F

X

X

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

D

D-

The Public Works Department needs to provide information when requested and quit trying to run the Advisory Committee.  The Agenda, the order the speakers are presented should be determined by the committee chairman not the Public Works Dept. staff.  The timing of the CFHMP is the committees business, not the Public Works Department.

SKAGIT CTY FCZD AC

   

C

D

F

Winner of the 2010 Ostrich Award is the best the committee did all year.  It needs to dedicate itself to working, not just complaining.  Certain members who have publicly admitted that they know nothing about the flood issue need to let people sit at the table who do.  Certain members who remain fixated on one project and that is the only one they will support either need to learn the art of compromise or walk away from the table because they are going to accomplish nothing.  Dike District commissioners who feel that no one is going to tell them what to do need to realize that if you want our money you are going to be told what to do or you get no money and then we can stop having these meetings and quit spending public money on studies.  The committee needs to refocus and double its efforts and commitment to the taxpayers of Skagit County.

TRIBES

F

F

C-

F

F

The fact that the Tribes have walked away from the process and are using their status as foreign nations to meet secretly with the USACE is despicable and a major embarrassment to Tribal members.  One white boy representative said before they left that they would just rely on the Corps of Engineers to protect their interest.  The more governments, whether they are Tribal or Mt. Vernon and Burlington, conduct their business in secret smoke filled rooms the more the public loses their trust for them.

USFW

F

F

F

F

F

Did nothing positive towards making suggestions to how flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration can work hand in hand.  If it is true that they want large root balls anchored next to the levees for fish, and the levees fail because of the placement of said root balls, do they accept the liability for that requirement?

USGS

F-

F

F-

D-

F

Given the now highly questionable data (sea level or low low water) Stewart used to compute his flood flows USGS is embarrassing itself using anything Mr. Stewart wrote.

WSDOT

 X

X

F

F

F

WSDOT needs to compare the cost of widening Highway 9 to protecting I-5 as a means of keeping commerce moving in an emergency corridor.  The argument could clearly be made that WSDOT should be paying for the GI Study, not the taxpayers of Skagit County.  WSDOT exacerbated the problem, WSDOT should fix it.

 

2011—What Must Be Done?

With minor editing the paragraphs I wrote in 2008 are still applicable on this last day of 2010.

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 114 years.   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?  The question is, are we going to do something responsible about it or are we going to continue to be motivated by greed and selfishness and ignore the obvious.

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 Sound Energy and Seattle City Light Dams?  Why is it so difficult to understand that the only viable project in the Lower Valley is to 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 you truly believe that the hydrology is wrong and 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 2011 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 lunacy.  The future deserves better from us. 

 

 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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