Researched, assembled and organized by: Larry Kunzler
Index prepared by Larry Kunzler, 5/20/2007







Floodway plan could “devastate” growth

If the federal government designates a floodway for the lower Skagit River, it would be “devastating” to residential and commercial development, especially in Burlington and Mount Vernon, an official of the Federal Insurance Administration said Tuesday. . . . Designation of a floodway will have far-reaching effects on local property values, development and even commercial and industrial progress.  No further development, including land fill and new construction, will be permitted within the floodway area, he said (Wes Edens).  . . .  “The dikes aren’t going to hold a 100 year flood”, Gardner said, “In fact you’d be better off without them.”



This one article began a 3 year battle over the management of the Skagit River floodplain.



Committee wants floodway

The Skagit County Flood Committee will try to establish a floodway for the lower Skagit River all.  At their March meeting, the committee members were, for the most part, against doing the floodway work which was requested by FEMA.  Since then, however, FEMA officials have met with local government representatives and given them this message:  if you don’t designate a floodway with local comments, then we will do it for you and you won’t like what we do.



The committee had no idea how contentious this issue would turn out to be nor how clearly in over their head they were going to get.



Stop building in floodplain – Feds warn

Construction should be stopped in the Skagit River flood plain until a flood for the river is designated, a federal official said Tuesday.  Members of the Burlington City Council told during a study session that no significant construction should continue in the Skagit River flood plain until a floodway has been designated and approved by FEMA.  . . .  “If you allow indiscriminate development in the floodway, the water will rise, and according to FEMA regulations, it can’t rise more than one foot in any one point,” he said. (Chuck Steele).  . . .  “If you won’t practice land management for flood insurance that will reduce or avoid future losses, then we will,” Chuck Steele said.


“It’s really a zoning matter, in that should everywhere else be filled, there would be someplace that could take this 90,000 cubic feet of water.  Using that concept, it becomes compatible with farm zoning,” Arnold Hansen said.

Widening the 3 bridge corridor, setting the levees back and allowing the river to overflow in any event greater than 1995 would accomplish this.



Flood group contemplates dam on Sauk

Corps spokesman Dick Regan termed the containment dam a “logical” option.  “As far as flood control for the Skagit River that’s the most logical way to do it,” he said.  But he quickly noted the Skagit’s inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic River system. . . . Meanwhile, Regan had a number of observations and suggestions to make to the committee, whose job it will be to recommend a designated floodway for the federal government.  First of all, he said, “I think what FEMA is looking for is general ideas.”    . . .  At one point in the meeting he emphasized that FEMA does not necessarily have to call on the Corps for technical studies.  They can, he said, select any consultant they wish to do the work.



Skagit County Flood Control Committee began its foolish pursuit of the Sauk River Dam.  A waste of time and energy.



Sauk Dam – County’s cost for project could run $20-60 million

U.S. Rep. Al Swift, D-2nd Dist., said Thursday local officials can expect a change in attitude from “brusque, arrogant” field representatives for FEMA.  . . .  FEMA’s role, said Swift, is basically to save the federal government money associated with disasters such as recurrent flooding.  He agreed with angry constituents that “particular (FEMA) field people at work in Whatcom and Skagit counties will never qualify as diplomats.”  . . .  He said FEMA administrators Charles Steele and Carl Cook have already met with Whatcom County officials and he will arrange similar meetings soon in Skagit County.



Dam very expensive and would need congressional approval.  FEMA officials reprimanded for heavy handed tactics.  This shows what can happen when you have positive leadership on a congressional level. 



Committee wants ‘definite answer’ on dam

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Hulbert referred to recent news reports regarding the possibility of a Sauk River flood control dam and said, “I somewhat regret public debate on this before we submit it to you people.”  Hulbert’s comments were made in reference to comments made by U.S. Rep. Al Swift, D-2nd District, who recently termed a Sauk River dam project “virtually impossible.”  . . .  In further discussion of their draft recommendations, subcommittee chairman Arnold Hansen said his group sees a “restricted density floodway” as the only realistic option to meeting floodway designation requirements of FEMA.  A density floodway would restrict development of a percentage of each parcel of land in areas likely to be flooded by the Skagit River.



Fish concerns, high cost, and congressional approval were cited as reasons Sauk Dam would not be built. 


The restricted density floodway concept was born.



Flood group pushes ahead with Sauk dam

Members of the Skagit River Flood Control Committee put their official stamp of approval Thursday night on a recommendation to seek construction of a dam on the Sauk River.  The committee, established by the county Board of Commissioners last October, also recommended in a 13-2 vote that a “restricted density floodplain” be established in Skagit County as soon as possible to meet a requirement by FEMA..  Subcommittee chairman Arnold Hansen presented his group’s report, which concluded:  “. . . approximately 25% of the flow area (downstream from Sedro-Woolley) kept at its current elevation, would accommodate the flood flow estimated.”  In other words, property owners in the floodplain would be prohibited from altering 25% of their property in any way, this providing an unobstructed flow area for floodwaters.  Hansen conceded in response to criticism by fellow committeeman Larry Kunzler that the 25% figure was not based on technically established flood flow figures.



Even after being told that the Sauk River Dam was next to impossible to achieve the flood committee still pursued it.  The 25% density floodway concept was also an absurd proposal and a waste of time.  In the end FEMA’s recommendation through Dames and Moore was 10% could be developed and 90% had to be left open.  (See 1982 Dames & Moore Report ).



Maynock urges war on regulation

A Reagan task force member warned Sedro-Woolley Rotarians last week that the federal bureaucrats will continue to steal local decision-making rights unless private citizens begin to speak out against such encroachment.  Ron Maynock, a Mt. Vernon building official, is one of two state representatives on a 95-member Reagan task force created in an effort to reduce federal regulations on housing and property development.  . . .  “In effect what they are telling me,” he said, “is, “We don’t want to come up with an equitable solution – we want the valley to flood.””



This was one of the more “colorful people” who ever worked in our valley who didn’t work here very long before he overstayed his welcome.



Flood pundit sees logic in density controls

Skagit River Flood Control committeeman Arnold Hansen said Tuesday a “restricted density floodplain” is the only logical response to flood control demands made by the federal government.  . . .  That proposal would prohibit property owners in the delta from altering 25% of their land in any way that would restrict the flow of floodwater.  Such a proposal is not a ban on development, said Hansen, because floodway property could still be used for such purposes as parking lots and streets as long as no landfill is required.



(See 1982 Dames & Moore Report ).



Flood committee OKs control plan

Members of the Skagit River Flood Control Committee gave overwhelming approval Thursday night to subcommittee recommendations hashed out in the course of 11 months of work.  (Approved Sauk River dam and density floodway.)  . . .  Other committee recommendations include:  --Constructing a floodwater bypass only as an alternative to a Sauk River dam.  –Requesting aid from the Corps of Engineers in clearing numerous logjams on the river.  –Assessing the ability of existing dikes to withstand 50-year floodwater levels and asking Skagit County commissioners to set aside $400,000 annually for a river improvement fund to be matched on a project basis with funds from dike districts.



Ultimately the only thing that was instituted was the 50-year flood protection program which by the way was and is in violation of FEMA NFIP regulations and local flood ordinances.  (See FEMA -- The Total Failure Package )



Mount Vernon favors restricting density in floodplain

The city council here unanimously approved a recommendation from the Skagit River Flood Control Committee Wednesday in favor of using a “restricted density floodplain” method of controlling potential flood waters.  The density floodplain proposal is based on setting a maximum level of development density allowable in the floodplain area of the lower delta of the Skagit River, downriver from Sedro-Woolley.  Proponents of the restricted density method claim the concept causes the least adverse impact and would require “unified support of local officials”.  Further recommendations by the committee include building a dam on the Sauk River and raising dikes in the delta area to a uniform level to handle a 50-year flood level.



All of the lower valley communities signed onto this concept thinking that if they all stood together on the same page that they could force the federal government into accepting their 75% developed 25% undeveloped scenario. 



Flood Insurance – Does it cause more of a mess than it avoids

The 100-year flood carries 270,000 cubic feet of water per second.  During such an event the dikes and levees fail and, up to their ears in water, residents here look to floods like the one in 1975 as a blessing.  . . .  In 1968, Congress established this program for providing insurance to property owners in flood-prone areas.  . . .  Authorities around here differ in their opinions as to whether every city is following the FEMA building regulations.  Two things seem certain, however:  the county strictly enforces its FEMA-type building ordinance and Mt. Vernon is enforcing FEMA regulations weakly, if at all.  Mt. Vernon Building Official Ron Maynock admitted he will not force a property owner to build above the 100-year flood plain if that owner doesn’t want to.  He said he doesn’t want to be heavy-handed with people around here.  However The Argus has learned that two FEMA officials came to Mt. Vernon recently and took pictures of a house on Hoag Road for which Maynock issued a building permit.  The house is about 400 feet from the dike, and is not elevated at all.  . . .  Chuck Steele, director of natural and technological hazards with FEMA explained FEMA might have ignored such disobedience in the past.  This new, waste-conscious administration, though, doesn’t look kindly on paying out money it doesn’t have to.



Regardless of what position local residents take on the issue of flood control regulations, it is obvious the complex issue will continue to spark debate here for some time.”


No truer words have ever been spoken in Skagit County.



Town of Hamilton may be moved

The feasibility of physically moving the Town of Hamilton to a location safe from flooding will be the subject of a preliminary study and a town meeting next month, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  . . .  Hamilton Mayor Tom Hooper said the present feeling he gets among the town population of some 280 people is “50-50.”  “The way the town council feels, it is kind of leaning toward it,” he said of the idea.  “Without knowing the particulars or the cost it makes it kind of difficult to say.  If we have some more high water, the trend may change.”  This is not something that is going to happen overnight.  Nothing will happen within the next several years, it is years away,” Farrar said.  “This just is an alternative that looks like it has promise if the town people are interested.” 



“Congressman Al Swift, D-Everett, echoed the time factor involved and said he would support the decision of the residents of Hamilton.  “The Corps moves at a glacial pace at its fastest,” Swift said.  “Even if the people of Hamilton decided they were interested, we’re probably talking years, not months.”

A quarter of a century later we’re still talking about moving Hamilton.  



Hamilton not easily moved by floods

Opinions are mixed among residents of this riverside town on the potential of moving the Town of Hamilton to a new location, out of the Skagit River floodway.  One man who is certain he does not want to leave Hamilton is Ted Ericson, who has been a resident of Hamilton since moving upriver with his parents in 1912.   Now, at the age of 78 he has retired from his work in the woods and settled in a small house he fondly calls "home."  Following the flood of 1980 which brought some 14 inches of water into his residence, the house itself was raised up on oil barrels to a height ten inches above the last flood level as a protection measure from future high water. Though Ericsson said he is unsure whether the house is up high enough yet to completely protect his few belongings, he knows he wants to stay where he is.  The Hodgin family shares his sentiment in wanting to sty in the town they have been a part of for some 48 years.  Irene and Dee Hodgin and their son, Martin Hodgin, are owners of homes and some 45 acres of land within the town limits, in what is considered the “high” end of town, at an elevation of 97 feet.  . . .  Martin cited that there were no floods in Hamilton from 1951 to 1975, followed by three flooding years in a row.



It would be interesting to track down these families now some 25 years later and see how they feel about Hamilton now following the 1989, 1990, 1995, 2003 and 2006 floods.



Hamilton plans fail to move residents

Many residents of this upriver community told U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials Saturday they are not so sure they are in favor of a plan to physically move the town of Hamilton to an area safe from flooding.  . . .  The alternatives included no change, upstream storage, raising structures, dredging the river, a ring levee system and moving the town.  The first five were rejected during preliminary studies for a variety of reasons including provisions for regulations imposed by FEMA and the Wild and Scenic River designation on the Skagit River, leaving the moving concept as the only viable alternative, Crow said.



Meeting started with 200 people and ended up with  about 50.



Flood group amends recommendations after emergency meeting

The Skagit River Flood Control Committee’s hopes for 100-year flood protection may be less sure after a run-in with some U.S. Army Corps of Engineers figures. . . . Its deficiency became clear, though, when Kunzler read his Army Corps of Engineers 1965 study.  According to this study, a Sauk River dam would have to have 250,000 acre feet of storage to provide 100-year flood protection.  Since this report was put out, however, the Baker River Dam was constructed (should read Baker River Dam storage was obtained) providing 75,000 acre feet of storage, Kunzler pointed out that this isn’t enough.  In the Committee report’s summary of alternatives, it claims a 255-foot high Sauk Dam would provide 134,000 acre feet of flood control, a very desirable level of flood protection,”  Kunzler pointed out, though, that such a dam, including Baker River dam storage, provides less than the 250,000 acre feet the Corps claimed necessary for 100-year flood protection.



So according to the figures presented we currently need 175,000 acre feet of storage to protect from a 100 year flood.  So why is FERC denying the request for flood storage again?



Editorial “…take your chances.”

The proposal to move the entire town tends to fail as a viable proposition, not only by the reluctance of Hamiltonians to relocate but also because of the uncertainty of the availability of the higher ground property and, probably one of the greatest stumbling blocks, the fact that the Corps would pay only $2 million of the relocation costs.  This, by current rough estimates, would leave $2.8 or more million dollars to be raised locally.  Could the currently money-strapped state help? Not likely. Could the county government or the town itself produce this kind of financing? Dubious.


“Hamilton residents may wonder whether they are being given little more than excuses for doing nothing. With harsh memories of floods as recent as 1980, 1979 and 1975, they have cause for continuing concern.”

And the floods of 1989, two in 1990, 1995, 2003 and 2006.



County asked to back flood control package

The plan involves a package of flood control recommendations including a dam on the Sauk River, dike and levee improvements, debris removal, floodplain management programs and a restricted density floodplain.  . . .  Aside from the wording changes outlined, the committee report maintains that the dam on the Sauk River would be the “only solution offering flood relief to all of Skagit County,” according to Bob Hulbert, chairman of the upriver storage sub-committee.  . . .  The proposed program would include analysis of the present condition of the dikes and upgrading of those problem areas to the “present highest level of protection” of the dikes which is estimated to accommodate approximately a 5O-year flood event. Funding for such an improvement program is proposed to be divided between the county and local diking districts with a minimum expenditure by each of some $400.000 in a year.


“Certainly a society that put-a man on the moon can solve .the flooding problems of Skagit County,” Hulbert said.  You would think..


Important for the reviewer to remember is that no recommendation came from the committee regarding additional storage behind Baker or Ross because PSE had lied to the committee.  See 11/10/81 BOC Minutes re floodway designations & dam storage .



Feds check floodplain buildings

If the City of Mount Vernon is to keep its federal flood insurance intact, it may have to prove “good intent” in building permits issued during the last few years for construction within the floodplain.  Because of a statement attributed to Mt. Vernon Building Official Ron Maynock in the January 14 issue of a weekly newspaper, the Mt. Vernon Argus, FEMA will be “touring” building sites in Mt. Vernon sometime during March to see if buildings have been elevated above the 100-year flood level.  That flood level is at least four feet in Skagit County.  . . .  “FEMA must assume that we are functioning with validity.  They can’t take some reporters’ statement or (the statements) of some resident who starts complaining.  It bothers me that they are reading articles in the newspaper and making assumptions,” Maynock said.



One has to be careful what one says to the press.  It ended up costing this man his job.



Federal Agency to review local permit practices

MOUNT VERNON – The Argus has learned that the city of Mount Vernon has come under investigation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which suspects the city has not been enforcing FEMA floodplain building regulations.  . . .  One FEMA official described the investigation by saying the agency suspects “city policy is not consistent with city obligations.”  If the officials find such a pattern and if the city refuses to change, Mount Vernon will be taken off the federal flood insurance program, Steele said. There are 374 federal flood insurance policies in Mount Vernon.  . . .  Maynock admitted there may be one or two slight violations, but he blamed these on the ambiguity of federal flood insurance rate maps, which outline the flood hazard areas in which buildings must be elevated above ‘ the lOO-year flood level. ..Maynock said the lines on these maps separating flood hazard areas from non-flood hazard areas can get confusing. 



Only 374 flood insurance policies in 1982.  Compare with today of 1,005. 



Federal Official calls audit routine

Chuck Steele, director of natural and technological hazards with FEMA’s Seattle office reported last week an upcoming investigation of Mount Vernon building practices is routine.  Steele said that if FEMA finds a pattern of non-compliance with these requirements, the city could be taken off the flood insurance program if it refuses to comply. This would mean citizens could not get flood insurance and therefore could not get housing loans from federally insured organizations.  Ron Maynock. Mount Vernon building official. Said he doubts the city will be taken off the Insurance program.  He guessed FEMA would only require the city to adopt an ordinance outlining the FEMA regulations to been forced.  Maynock explained the city now only has a resolution outlining these regulations and no ordinance. He said Steele was surprised to find this out at a meeting here last month .with city officials.



Mt. Vernon had a loophole after all.  Now about that ordinance.



FEMA official frowns on flood proposal

Chuck Steele, director of natural and technological hazards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told county officials on a visit to Mount Vernon last week that a waiver will be issued until the Skagit floodway problem is solved.  . . . “We’ve had a horrendous time with the floodway here,” he commented.  If Skagit County citizens do get under ‘.the second phase of the .federal flood Insurance program the increase in coverage will be marked.  . . .  Steele explained FEMA is wary of the limited density method because the lay of the land doesn’t lend itself to it. He said a limited density floodway does not pertain to a delta situation like downriver Skagit County.  A designated floodway is possible for the upriver area, he said, because the floodwaters would be confined to the valley. Yet the wide-open down river has no such clear path. “Our scientific methods for deltas aren’t as refined,” he said, explaining . FEMA’s frustration with the downriver .floodway, problem.



The Flo 2-D model provides a clear flow path. If you allow for overtopping in certain areas then that becomes your floodway.  The natural floodway is Gages Slough to Padilla Bay.  If you get the water past the City of Burlington and dump it before it gets to Mt. Vernon that becomes your floodway and the urban areas don’t have to worry about it..


Density floodway begins to exit stage left.



Editorial – Land Use Proposal By FEMA Unacceptable

This week, after months of quit work in Washington, D.C., FEMA officials released new Skagit County flood elevation figures – and a bombshell recommendation that only 10 percent development be allowed on property in the Skagit River floodplain.  In other words, you would be allowed to build on only 10 percent of any land you own in the floodplain of the Skagit River.  That policy would be palatable for those who own large parcels of land, but rendering 90 percent of a small piece of property useless is unacceptable.   Who needs an outhouse when you can’t even build a one-room cabin?


Needless to say that a figure of 10% development and 90% left open vs the ridiculous local position of 25% left open and 75% development sounded the death knell for the density floodway.  What were they thinking?  However this should be a good measuring stick in 2007.  Has 10% of Burlington been filled with landfill?



City Official Blast Feds for Blackmail

Maynock claimed that FEMA has shown a “blatant disregard for people in the valley or what we can live with.”  His complaint stems from what be sees as “blackmail” by the federal agency. Maynock said FEMA has told Skagit County that either it convert to an expensive federal flood insurance plan that doesn’t provide adequate coverage, or it will be denied flood insurance and be blacklisted –from federal grants and loans, disaster assistance or federal mortgage insurance.  “They (FEMA) have the power to literally kill this valley,” Maynock said.



Justified or not some of these same complaints are still heard today.



City officials face flood insurance deadline

Maynock told a Mt. Vernon Chamber of Commerce crowd Thursday that officials from FEMA investigated Mt. Vernon’s building policies last week and decided the city must come up with a strict ordinance regulating floodplain construction or be kicked out of the federal flood insurance program.  . . .  In Mt. Vernon, for example, there are 374 policies totaling $13,469,900, according to recent FEMA statistics.  . . . If Mt. Vernon fails to enact a FEMA-type building ordinance in approximately 30 days they will fall short of this regular phase and will be out of the insurance program altogether.  . . .  Piazza suggested Mt. Vernon citizens band together and tell FEMA to “take a hike,” pooling the money they normally pay to FEMA and, in essence, creating their own flood insurance program.




Currently there are 1,005 policies in Mt. Vernon for $191,918,400 coverage as of  2/28/07.



Editorial – FEMA’s Skagit activities call for political attention

Considering the tremendous social, economic and political effects its activities have on the residents of Skagit County, it is amazing how little public comment FEMA has drawn from this area’s elected officials.  After a particularly blatant incident last year involving arrogant FEMA officials and upriver Skagit residents, Congressman Al Swift reported that he had met with FEMA administrators to suggest they clean up their act, at least on his turf.  . . . 


“FEMA was created to serve the American public – not the other way around.  It is time the politicians representing Skagit residents made that point emphatically clear.”

This statement could be applied to a lot of federal agencies involved in the Skagit River flood issue.



FEMA issues Mt. Vernon ultimatum

FEMA has extended Mt. Vernon’s deadline to write a floodplain construction ordinance to June 1, 1982.  FEMA officials had originally told city building official Ron Maynock the city had 30 days to write a strict ordinance or be kicked out of the federal flood insurance program.  Word came last Friday, however, that the deadline was altered.  . . .  Jack Macauley, Mt. Vernon realtor who heads a special committee of the Skagit County Board of Realtors with the task of informing the Board of FEMA-related matters, said such a FEMA type ordinance would increase construction costs so that new houses would be “economically not feasible.”



Construction cost fears did not materialize given the large amount of development in today’s floodplain vs. what there was in 1982.



Argus Editorial Cartoon


Depicts FEMA beating up on Mt. Vernon while elected officials of Skagit County standby, including a County Commissioner who is now the Mayor of Mt. Vernon.



Citizens Quite on Flood Insurance Issue

FEMA officials recently investigated Mount Vernon’s building practices, finding the city has not complied with floodplain construction ordinances they established.  . . .  Chuck Steele, FEMA spokesman, said the citizens here have an incorrect concept of what FEMA is, adding that city officials are over-emphasizing the consequences of writing a floodplain construction ordinance.  . . .  Steele said the furor raised over writing an ordinance in Mount Vernon tells him there has been a total lack of compliance with the program”  He pointed out Skagit County has a FEMA-type ordinance it now enforces and he said it has caused little controversy. 



“Pointing out the effect of an ordinance on the economy is a backward focus, he claimed.  He said people should be worried about the effect a large flood, like a 100 yr flood, would have on the economy.


17,000 other communities had flood ordinances in effect at the time.  Why should Mt. Vernon be treated any differently?



Reprieve possible on deadline for compliance with regulations

Mt. Vernon officials may get a reprieve from FEMA’s June 1 deadline by enforcing a building moratorium.  . . .  The letter, which was a response to a request from Gidlund, states the city can have until July 1 to write an ordinance.  The only other alternative, the letter states, is a building moratorium in the city limits until an ordinance is written.  Such a moratorium would affect certain large projects already planned here, including Skagit County’s new jail.



Write the ordinance or institute a building moratorium. 



City officials to discuss dispute with FEMA

The City of Mt. Vernon has been ordered to comply with FEMA regulations or lose its federal flood insurance, and after several meetings and appeals has been given one extra month to adopt an ordinance enforcing those regulations, according to FEMA official Chuck Steele.  . . .  The city has been on notice for more than five years.  That’s adequate time to prepare a study.  The data has been there for 10 years in one way, shape or form, but the city obviously didn’t use it.” Steele said in a telephone interview Monday.  . . .  Our monitoring (early this month) revealed that builders are not required to build to the 100-flood level, and that could cost millions of dollars in flood insurance.  Many of the houses were three feet below the known flood level,” Steele said.  . . .  “Our flood level elevations are conservative.  The Corps’ (of Engineers) is even higher,” he said.



Mt. Vernon had 5 years to write an ordinance.  During that 5 years many buildings were built with no elevation requirements.  One has to wonder how safe the owners of those buildings feel now.


Corps of Engineers elevations were higher then FEMA’s.  And today FEMA is adopting the Corps figures.



Feds hold MV to July 1 deadline

Following a meeting with federal officials Wednesday, the city of Mt. Vernon still faces a July 1 deadline with FEMA.  . . .  The session was attended by FEMA representatives Carl Cook and Herb McElvaine along with officials from Mt. Vernon.  . . .  Representatives from Rep. Al Swift and Sen. Slade Gorton offices also attended.  . . . We either adopt an ordinance to their liking, or we are suspended from the flood insurance program,” Maynock said.  “This meeting was an exercise in futility.”



Its clear Mt. Vernon brought this on themselves.  They had 5 years to write an ordinance.  They knew since at least 1894 the seriousness of the flood issue on their downtown area that sits 12 feet below the level of the river in 1990 and 1995.



Editorial – Save front row for local officials at flood insurance meeting

The most critical observers of flood control efforts by FEMA contend the agency’s construction restrictions will ultimately “turn the lights out in Skagit Valley.”  FEMA defenders, on the other hand, argue that it would be irresponsible for local and federal officials to do anything less than imposing strict land-use policies in an area renowned for its periodic floods.  . . .  While pressure mounts with the approach of a flood regulation compliance deadline for Mt. Vernon officials, a set of recommendations from a hard working group of Skagit County volunteers gathers dust on a shelf somewhere.  Despite over a year of work on their report, members of the county commissioner appointed Skagit Valley Flood Control Committee have never received the active endorsement their report deserves from the county commissioners.  . . .  Will Mt. Vernon and Burlington someday become “cities on stilts?”  Will strict flood control regulations on building renovation projects turn parts of Burlington and Mt. Vernon into ghetto-like areas.  Is any action short of full endorsement of FEMA’s proposals irresponsible to citizens of this valley?




The answer to all of the questions proposed in the editorial was then and obviously is now, No!



Feds warn city: “adopt flood rules or else”

The City of Mt. Vernon could experience a federal aid boycott if it doesn’t’ conform to federal floodplain construction regulations, city council members and local residents were told last night.  . . .  Ramifications resulting from a denial by the city to conform will include no federal loan or grant money from federally insured banks or loaning institutions for residents in flood-prone areas; no federal disaster aid from agencies including the SBA, FHA and the VA for structural damage in the floodplain, no federal flood insurance for residents in the floodplain, including those who are presently insured.  Their insurance would run its course but could not be renewed.  . . .  Councilmen also expressed worries about a halt on dike additions that would occur if an ordinance was passed.  They were told that FEMA does not view dikes as flood fighting measures but as encroachment, an act which would raise or divert the level of floodwaters. 




Presently, Mt. Vernon rates fifth in the state in the number of flood insurance policies for communities, with 374.  Sixty-seven of those are non-residential.  The insurance provides 3.5 million in coverage for a total premium charge of $54,000.  The average premium for a single family residence is $145.

Today Mt. Vernon has 1,005 policies, for $191,918,400 in coverage and spends            $776,433 in premiums for an average premium of $772.  Over the last 29 years FEMA has paid out $586,374.23 in damages.  (See Policy Statistics and Loss Statistics)



Editorial Cartoon


Depicts Mt. Vernon building official with his finger in the dike asking for help with FEMA regulations.



Editorial – FEMA’S fame spreads; see agency in action Thursday

In a presentation last week at a public meeting in Mt. Vernon, two FEMA officials outlined the history of their agency and described the intent of the federal government’s flood insurance program.  The program, they emphasized at one point, was established only because few people were interested in flood insurance until after their property had been destroyed.  In order to assist those affected by floods, the federal government kindly stepped in and established a subsidized assistance program.  . . .  The program is no longer viewed by federal officials as a subsidized program.  Instead, the mandate is that the program – that is, its primarily involuntary taxpayer clients – will now pay its own way.  The “voluntary” program of “subsidized” flood insurance is neither voluntary or subsidized.



The “voluntary” program of “subsidized” flood insurance is neither voluntary or subsidized.





Mt. Vernon in no-win situation

WITH FEMA – Growth would be limited

Apart from increased insurance costs for existing structures built below the 100-year flood plain, new construction costs will increase simply because all buildings will be required to be elevated above the 100-year flood level.  In larger projects that will require adding several feet of fill and for residential construction pilings might be required.  Fill dirt can costs as much as $7 a yard.  . . .  The great majority of Mt. Vernon’s commercial district is located in the flood plain, in varying stages to 11-12 feet below the 100-year flood level.  . . .  The increased costs caused by building to elevation regulations will adversely affect the tax base of the city because businesses are the major supporters of city services.  . . .  Questions about the city’s ability to maintain the dikes under th new program have also been raised.  FEMA views dikes as encroachments because they are situated in the floodway and will divert flood waters.  Increasing their size would be prohibited under FEMA regulations.


WITHOUT FEMA – Federal aid would be cut

By joining the regular flood insurance program with FEMA Mt. Vernon residents and businessmen face higher construction costs and a possible no-growth after-effect.  On the other hand, if the city doesn’t join, flood insurance will no longer be available in this area, and federal financial help on the local level will be severely limited.  . . .  The repercussions of withdrawing or being suspended from the program include no federal flood insurance for any resident or business.  Policies which are active at the time the program ends will run their course, but they may not be renewed.  Other than the federal program, the only kind of flood insurance available is a special policy for some mobile homes.



These articles could give a whole new meaning to “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.  The reality is that the Skagit River Valley especially the urban areas are subject to very severe flood events.  Living behind a levee and not having flood insurance is as smart as jumping out of a plane without your parachute.



Residents voice anger over flood regs

“They’re not only selling insurance, they’re guaranteeing you’re gonna collect it.  They’re going to turn the lights out in downtown Mt. Vernon.”  That statement by Civil Engineer Denny LeGro (referring to dike restrictions) represented the general feeling at last night’s public hearing to consider proposed flood insurance regulations.  . . .  Major concerns were for the well-being of the Mt. Vernon business district which lies in the designated flood plain.  Local businessmen claimed the program regulations would stifle their businesses with unfair costs and provide an inadequate amount of insurance.  . . .  Another issue of great concern locally is the restriction on increasing the sizes of the dikes if the city enters the program.  FEMA views dikes as encroachments which would raise the level of flood waters.  As existing structures, they may not be raised under the new program unless it is to the 100 year flood level.  . . .  Chuck Steele, deputy regional director of FEMA, countered by saying if the dikes were raised to the 100-year flood level, FEMA would have no argument.  The area would then be flood-free, he said.  And the dikes can be maintained, he said in answer to questions about breaks.  “I don’t think there is an engineer alive who would say that (repairing the dike) would raise the level of floods.  But there are grey areas between (raising and maintaining dikes),” he said.



Since this article was written, the lights are still on in Mt. Vernon, growth certainly has not been “stifled”, and the levees have all been raised and widened in the floodway.  Proving once again that regulations aren’t any good unless they are enforced.  Even when FEMA is notified of violations of local NFIP regulations FEMA Region X does nothing.  As one FEMA employee once wrote, “Certainly FEMA bears some responsibility for the increased flood damage potential in the Skagit Valley. (Source: E-mail from Patrick Massey, FEMA, 10/15/2001) (See ISYS QUERY FLOODWAY, 1/7/2007)




Citizens attack federal flood level estimates

FEMA’s insistence that residents need flood insurance and local wariness of this insistence both precariously rest on the question of just how deep Mt. Vernon flood waters could get.  . . .  These elevations are of particular concern to residents here because if Mt. Vernon enters the federal flood insurance program all new construction and substantial improvements will have to be elevated above them.  . . .  Steele pointed out that Congress doesn’t accept historical data as valid for flood insurance studies.  . . .  Denny LeGro, former Mt. Vernon City engineer called the Corps flood elevations “overly cautious.”  He said the problem with the flood elevation map is that it assumes the 100-year flood would be everywhere at its worst.  . . .  In a past study, the Corps determined the downtown Mt. Vernon levee would be the third most likely to break during a 100-year flood. 


“Congress doesn’t accept historical data as valid for flood insurance studies” yet their whole hydraulic model is based on 4 historical flood estimates that were based on mostly “historical data”.


The current FIS elevation map assumes the right bank levee is not there and the left one is, then assumes the left bank levee is gone and the right one stays.  Isn’t that “assuming” the 100 yr flood would be everywhere at its worst?  Important to remember is that at this point in time FEMA was still using the Corps hydrology, not Dames & Moore.



Government issues flood projections

It is FEMA estimates of the 100 year flood level that determine how high people here will have to build under the flood insurance program.  To give citizens an idea of how a FEMA approved ordinance would affect any new construction of substantial improvement they are contemplating, The Argus here gives a sweep of the required elevations.  Starting at the northern limits, near the river, the 100-year flood level is around 33 feet mean sea level.  The average ground elevation in this area is 27 feet mean sea level.  So, this means an elevation of six feet.  Moving south and following the same process, the average elevation around College Way and Riverside Drive would be about five feet.  Farther down Riverside Drive, around the Willow and Alder Lane area, a resident would have to elevate his structure around six feet to avoid the 100 year flood waters according to FEMA.  Moving into the downtown area, Gates Street, which is nearly the mid-point of the main commercial district, is at around 24 feet mean sea level.  The 100-year flood level, according to FEMA estimates, is around 30 feet, making for required elevation of around six feet.  At Kincaid street, the ground elevation takes a dip to around 23 feet.  The 100-year flood level, however, stays at around 30 feet, meaning a seven foot elevation.  The ground elevation keeps dipping after this, to an average of 19 feet around Section Street.  With a 100 year flood elevation of around 29 feet, citizens would have to elevate around ten feet.  Just up from Blackburn Road, along So. Second, the ground elevation goes to around 18 feet.  The 100-year elevation comes up a bit here to around 23 feet, meaning an elevation of around five feet.  On the west side, in the business plaza just off the bridge, the ground elevation is at around 20 feet.  At a 100 year flood elevation of around 29 feet, most structures would have to be elevated around nine feet here.  At the Washington School area, the ground elevation is around 19 feet.  The 100-year flood elevation is around 28 feet, requiring a nine-foot elevation.




It will be very interesting to compare the “new and improved” FEMA flood elevations with the “old” elevations that were eventually rejected when FEMA fired the Corps of Engineers and hired Dames & Moore.



Most Skagit towns will deal with FEMA

Mt. Vernon isn’t the only Skagit County community dealing with FEMA concerning flood insurance regulations.  Every other town and city on the Skagit Rive is in the same boat.  The Concrete Town Council and the Sedro-Woolley City Council are presently studying the flood insurance regulations, which would govern growth in the flood plain and floodway.  . . .  On a county wide scale, FEMA hopes to have local communities converted to the regular program by April, 1983.  Between now and then, a 90-day appeals period will be held when residents may appeal FEMA’s elevation standards.

FEMA 90 day appeal period.


All cities and towns and Skagit County Commissioners must deal independently with FEMA.  This is why it is so important for all cities and towns and the Commissioners to band together to know and understand how each is being affected by FEMA regulations.



FEMA can be flexible

How flexible can FEMA be?  According to at least two communities who have joined the regular flood insurance program with FEMA, the agency isn’t as hard-nosed as it appears.  . . .  The City of Richland, which is located in a delta like Mt. Vernon, joined the regular program last year.  According to City Planner Bill Davis, city officials worked with FEMA for four or five years and finally came up with an ordinance tailored specifically for that community.  “Some of (FEMA’s) regulations are interpretive, and that was the key for us,” Davis said.  “Interpretation can occur at the local level and FEMA is concerned and will talk.”  . . .  Under the equal conveyance method, areas of special flood hazard are split into the floodway, where residential development is strictly regulated, and the floodway fringe, where it is allowed.  With the density floodway method, the floodway and floodway fringe are combined with a 50 percent density requirement, allowing development closer to the river, Davis said.  Richlands ordinance requires all residential construction to occur one foot above the 100 year flood level, and all non-residential construction to be flood-proofed.  There were no models to follow in developing the density floodway method, so FEMA was very flexible in working with the city, Davis said.  Richland was the first community in the state, and possibly the nation, to use the density floodway method, he added.



“They have to satisfy the Congress of the United States and are doing it with as much flexibility as possible while still fulfilling the intent of the law.  It’s a general truth that if you want the benefits of the federal government, they don’t come free.  You have to modify your behavior.”  Steve Ladd, Hamilton City Planner




Flood elevation audit possible

The 100-year flood elevations designated for Mt. Vernon could be double-checked by a private engineering firm if the city can come up with a “valid” complaints against them, Chuck Steele, FEMA official reported recently.  But Steele added such a double-checking would not alter the July 1 deadline now facing the city.  . . .  At a public hearing last month, the Army Corps of Engineers figures used to estimate this level around the city came under fire.  Of particular concern to some were the flood elevations on the west side, some as high as nine feet.  Steele said if these personal complaints were documented, FEMA could ask a private engineering firm to look over the Corps data.  A “valid complaint, he said, would be an extraordinary 100-year flood depth.  . . .  “Hydrology is not a pure science,” he (Don Nelson) said, adding that if an engineer starts his study with a different set of assumptions he could come to a different set of conclusions.  Even if such double-checking is done, however, the city will still have to adopt its floodplain construction ordinance by July 1, Steele said.  He noted however, that if the Corps data was in question the city would not have to go by its figures in requiring construction elevation.  FEMA, rules require cities participating in the federal flood insurance program to use the “best available authoritative data,” he said.






“. . .if an engineer starts his study with a different set of assumptions he could come to a different set of conclusions.” 


FEMA, rules require cities participating in the federal flood insurance program to use the “best available authoritative data,”  I guess the only question left is whose authority and whose data?



Small crowd expresses concerns to FEMA

The arguments were not new.  A smaller crowd with the same concerns expressed in earlier sessions addressed the Mt. Vernon City Council Thursday evening in the last of a series of public hearings regarding proposed federal flood insurance regulations.  The majority of the 25 people in attendance at Hillcrest Park Lodge told the council they were opposed to entering into the regular program offered by FEMA.  As has been the case in past meetings, Larry Kunzler was the sole dissenting voice.  . . .  The only other city in the state that has voted not to go with flood insurance program is Pomeroy.  Kittitas County had refused to draw up an ordinance to go along with FEMA and was dropped from the program.  Soon after, public protest was so great that the county re-entered the program, Steele said.



The public quit coming to the meetings because they were hearing the same thing every time.  Play ball with FEMA or be kicked out of the program.



Flood level big question in insurance dilemma

The problem is that the federal government and many citizens around here are at odds over the actual depth of a 100-year flood.  For example, Army Corps of Engineer data claims that the 100 year flood depth for much of west Mt. Vernon would be around 29 feet mean sea level.  At past public hearings, some west side residents who would have to raise their structures as much as 11 feet under an ordinance have called such data ridiculous.  And at every public hearing on the issue – as city councilmen sat and listened – long-time Mt. Vernon residents have stood up claiming they have never seen flooding anywhere near what FEMA predicts.  . . .  Congress has decided historical data is insufficient to determine 100-year flood depths, however.  The only method accepted is a hydrological analysis like that done by the Army Corps of Engineers.  . . .  Chuck Steele, FEMA director of natural and technological hazards said just how severe the 100-year flood will be depends on where the dikes break.  The safety of the downtown area he said, depends on the hope that the dike will break someplace like Burlington first, a hope which creates a “tenuous situation” for downtown residents.  If the Mt. Vernon levy were the first to break during a 100-year flood, loss of life would be a distinct possibility, according to Steele.  He said studies have shown an adult could not stand up in three-foot deep water running three feet per second.  Velocities are great, he noted, when a dike breaks.



This is pretty amazing.  FEMA does not accept historical data, only accepts hydrological analysis, however the hydraulic analysis relies heavily on historical data that cannot be proven. 


“When told the Corps data would require some 11 foot elevations in parts of Mt. Vernon and even some 16 foot elevations out near the river bend, he said that would be “very good data on which to base an appeal.” Especially considering that area was shown to be subject to sheet flow flooding in a 1972 study.”




FEMA decision to review gives city breathing room

FEMA’s decision to double-check the 100-year flood depth data used in the flood insurance program gives the City Council another variable with which to work in their decision.  . . .  While they are waiting for the double-checked figures to return, the city could write an ordinance using the most reliable flood depth data available – perhaps nothing more than newspaper clippings from great flood years – and therefore receive all the benefits that go along with the federal flood insurance program. 



“If continued building in high-risk areas is not controlled in some way, a self-insurance program could become a losing proposition.”




City wins appeal –Feds to review flood figures

Officials of FEMA have agreed with many concerned citizens here and will therefore double-check elevation figures used in the federal flood insurance program.  In a letter written to Mayor Ruth Gidlund late last week, William Mayer, FEMA regional director, said the decision to double-check the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood depth data resulted from a technical appeal of that data written by City Engineer John Wiseman.  Wiseman explained the guts of the appeal was that the volume of water the Corps claimed would be in Mt. Vernon didn’t square with their claim that a good portion of the 100-year flood waters would be released by dike breaks at Sterling and Avon.  In place of the Army Corps data, the city should use a federally-approved “test of reasonableness” in determining how high new structures in the floodplain should be elevated, Mayer wrote.  This test includes “use of historical data, high water marks, photographs of past flooding, etc., where available,” according to federal regulations.  This test doesn’t include word of mouth, according to Chuck Steele, FEMA official working on the Mt. Vernon problem.  Steele said double-checking the Corps figures could take anywhere from a month to a year.



This test includes “use of historical data, high water marks, photographs of past flooding, etc., where available,” according to federal regulations.



Mt. Vernon to draw up flood ordinance

City Attorney Larry Moller will be drawing up a flood plain management ordinance to be presented to the Mt. Vernon City Council at its next meeting on July 28th.   . . .  FEMA officials will be checking the information used in determining elevation figures required in the flood insurance program.  The apparent “unreasonableness” of the figures prompted City Engineer John Wiseman to send an appeal to FEMA last month.  . . .  Historical data, newspaper accounts of past flooding and photographs may be used in determining the elevation heights when the city writes its flood plain management ordinance, Steele has said.



Isn’t this telling us that its okay to use historical data and newspaper accounts of past flooding before they have a hydraulic analysis but not after?  Shouldn’t it be that the hydraulic analysis is based on history, not a mathematical computer generated hypothetical flood event?



Feds reject MV flood ordinance

The City of Mt. Vernon’s recently written flood plain management ordinance has been rejected by FEMA.  In a letter sent to Mayor Ruth Gidlund on Monday, the agency basically said the ordinance had been rejected because of what FEMA official Chuck Steele called the exclusion of 10 “minor” requirements.  . . .  The points are ones that deal with a variety of specific technical requirements having to do with such things as how mobile homes are secured so they won’t be washed away, water and sewer systems precautions, dredging of landfills and more, Steele said.



One month later the council added the 10 missing points and passed the ordinance.



Council Approves Floodplain Ordinance

The City Council here passed the controversial floodplain construction ordinance last week, qualifying the city for the federal flood insurance program and allowing citizens to get loans for structures on the floodplain.  . . .  In place of 100 year flood elevations, the City must use historical data, high water marks, photographs of past flooding – or even common sense – to determine what constitutes “reasonably safe from flooding”.



City must use historical data, high water marks, or photographs of past flooding OR EVEN COMMON SENSE.  Good Lord that sounds like anecdotal evidence!!



Feds recommend strict regulations over development

Officials from FEMA released information last week that will affect both the height and density of development on the Skagit River Delta.  In a report, “Analysis of Flooding in the Skagit River Delta Area,” a Washington DC consulting firm hired by FEMA revealed new 100-year flood elevations for the lower Valley.  . . .  The consultants also spelled out a recommendation that new development in the floodplain be restricted to 10 percent of lot size to allow the free flow of flood water.  . . .  John Wiseman, Mt. Vernon city engineer, said the new elevations are reduced considerably on the West side and slightly in the downtown area.  However, in the Riverside Drive area, the new elevations are the same or even higher than before.  The West side 100-year flood elevations, which were a bone of contention in last years controversy, have gone anywhere from 9 to 13 feet above ground level to about three feet above ground level.  . . .  The downtown elevations have gone down on the average anywhere from 2 to 5 feet, Wiseman said.  He explained the consultants figured these elevations by assuming the dike would break just at the bottom of the downtown area.  Downtown would then back-flood, he explained.  This creates a 100-year flood elevation of 33 feet mean sea level in the whole general area he said.  Because of the dips and bumps in the ground elevation in the area, this would mean deeper water some places than others.  For example, the two malls in Mt. Vernon are at 30 feet mean sea level.



See Dames & Moore Report 100 year flood determined to be 240,000 cfs at Sedro-Woolley.  110,000 cfs assumed to stay in channel.  130,000 cfs assumed to flow overland.  Assumed 86,000 cfs flowing to Padilla Bay and 44,000 cfs flowing to Skagit Bay via the Samish basin.  I-5 will ultimately be overtopped.  Used Mannings "n" values of .045 to .06.  Recommended 10% of floodplain could be developed using density floodway method until flood waters would be raised 1 foot.




FEMA report threatens local development

In the report prepared for FEMA, Dames and Moore completely tumble the numbers on density in the flood plain which had been accepted by the Skagit County Flood Control Advisory Committee.  . . .  “This would have a tremendous negative impact,” said Mt. Vernon City Engineer John Wiseman.  “I’m hopeful Mt. Vernon can make some tradeoffs.  Burlington is even more severely impacted.  If this is enforced, it would just be intolerable.  . . . 



“If the numbers hold up, they’ll have teeth because of the insurance angle.  The area must abide by whatever formula is eventually adopted by FEMA in order to get flood insurance.  And banks can’t sell mortgages on the secondary market if they don’t have the flood insurance,” Wiseman said.



Federal official says designated floodway best Gages option

FEMA official Chuck Steele told The Argus last week the designated floodway – an area set aside for the flow of 100-year flood waters – is the lest confusing and “cleanest” solution to the lower Valley’s current problems with the federal flood insurance program.  By designating the Gages area a designated floodway, FEMA would be prohibiting any development that would increase the 100-year flood level in the area, which holds much of the future for Burlington development.  . . .  The limited density floodway, recommended by FEMA’s Washington DC consultants, would limit the density of development inn the entire lower Valley floodplain to 10 percent of lot size.  . . .  One of the revisions being contemplated is this Gages floodway, Steele said.  He noted the slough, an old channel of the Skagit River, is the most logical place for such zoning.  . . .  Noting the land in the Gages area is zoned commercial and industrial; City Planner Steve Ladd said that if FEMA designates a Gages floodway, the city will have to change its plans for the area.



The draft environmental impact statement for this (sewer line) extension states:  “. . . Gages Slough also serves as a floodway in any flood event greater than 145,000 cfs.”




Editorial – Local issue, local rights

. . . Why bother establishing land-use plans at the local level if state and federal bureaucrats repeatedly swarm around development proposals of any notable size to demand changes—or ultimate rejection of the plans?  . . .  We fail to see what r4ole Skagit County officials have in Burlington’s land-use issue – and we object to special interest influences against proposed development as strongly as we would special considerations to a businessman.  Considering the dramatic influence they wield here in Skagit County, we believe we are worthy of more “visitation” time from state and federal officials – especially those from FEMA.  . . . FEMA is not a private agency working for a select special interest group – it is a public agency funded by tax dollars and assigned the task of protecting the interest of the taxpayer.  Ever-expanding government controls will always be an issue of concern to citizens.  Where government intervention is deemed necessary, it is best accomplished at the nearest point possible to the grassroots level.



Many of the same thoughts written in this editorial were expressed Thursday night on May 24th 2007 at the Burlington Chamber of Commerce meeting.



FEMA report strikes blow to proposed mall

The feds sent in the verdict yesterday - Gages Slough is part of a floodway and should be protected from future development..  It means "no houses, no fills, no mobile homes, no anything" for certain areas, a federal official said last night.  Larry Basich, hydraulics engineer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, delivered the news last  night at a meeting of the Skagit Council of Governments. Local officials were told to keep, Gages Slough clear of encroachments or expect to see FEMA put the knife to any future hopes of federal flood insurance.  The three areas Basich described as part of the floodway are the Skagit River itself, the area immediately in and around Gages" Slough, and the area immediately north of Burlington Hill.  Floodway restrictions should be in effect from the south end of Burlington's urban area all the 'way to the Skagit River, Basich said.  "We will expect the local government to keep those areas completely free of any encroachment," Basich said. "This is the final analysis.  The decision was made today."  . . .  "We're gonna get mad and kick you out of the program," Basich warned.




Don’t like what we proposed, "We're gonna get mad and kick you out of the program,".



FEMA flood figures please local city officials

City officials in Mt. Vernon and Burlington seem at least somewhat pleased with recent flood figures released by FEMA.  Elevations mandated for new construction in Mt. Vernon are much lower than the controversial figures released last year and Burlington is no longer in a regulated floodway.  . . .  Since Mt. Vernon City Engineer John Wiseman requested a re-examination of FEMA’s flood elevation figures last year, the agency has cooperated with the Army Corps of Engineers in “refining” those figures.  . . .  in discussions with officials (in Skagit County) and a further examination we felt the product could be better.  “We did additional studies and computer runs and came up with refined information which resulted in several changes for Mt. Vernon and Burlington.”  . . .  The major change regarding Burlington is that the city is no longer a floodway to be regulated by FEMA.  However, the natural floodway remains and city officials must work with FEMA in revising Burlington’s flood management ordinance to accommodate potential flooding conditions.  The ability for water to pass through the city must not be hindered, Steele said. 



According to documents obtained from FEMA the area between the landward toe of the levee to the landward toe of the levee was supposed to be treated as floodways and an area of “Special Flood Risk Zone” along Gages Slough was also supposed to be managed as a floodway.  See Memorandum for Record re Dames & Moore Study; FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS





Agency angers U.S. Rep. Swift

A federal officials visit here last week to bring news of eased floodplain development restrictions followed on the heel of pressure from local officials, The Argus has learned.  The pressure came after an engineer from FEMA told a gathering of local officials in mid-May they would have to obey federal building regulations or be kicked out of the federal flood insurance program.  Both Mt. Vernon Mayor Ruth Gudlund and local U.S. Rep. Al Swift soon afterward called FEMA official Chuck Steele and complained of what Swift termed a “dictatorial attitude” displayed by FEMA engineer Larry Basich.  “I will not tolerate that attitude on the part of federal officials,” Swift said.  “I had to talk to FEMA about this before and am particularly disturbed that this autocratic attitude has raised its ugly head again.”  . . .  Steele last week came up to the Valley from Bothell headquarters to meet with local officials.  He told Burlington officials that, contrary to what the engineer had said, Gages Slough and an area north of Burlington Hill will not be set aside as “administrative floodways.”



This shows what can happen when you have your Congressman on your side.



Revised flood level map ready for public

After more than ten years of studies, FEMA officials have another revised copy of a flood elevations map ready for public comment.  . . .  Major differences in the newest map pointed out by Steele generally lowered the elevation figures.  “We added up all the figures and we came up with too much water, that’s all,” he said of the revisions.  “It is a statistical flood, not a historical flood,” he said.  . . .  In the area of downtown Mt. Vernon, flood elevations for construction were reduced from nine feet to three feet, to indicate a “sheet flow” of water and to match the elevation assigned to west Mt. Vernon, Steele said.  From downtown Mt. Vernon to Blackburn Road, elevation requirements proposed by FEMA in the present map are one foot above existing ground level, while from Blackburn south to Hickox Road, the elevation is proposed as two feet above ground level and three-foot elevation from Hickox south to Conway.  Steele noted that in addition to the shallow “A-O” flood zone of the area of west Mt. Vernon and Avon, the water would carry a velocity of four to six feet per second.  Elevations for the general area of Riverside Drive and College Way has been reduced from a range of 32 to 34 feet down to 30 feet, Steele said.



“We added up all the figures and we came up with too much water, that’s all,” “It is a statistical flood, not a historical flood,” he said.  This is exactly the problem we have today, the Corps “statistical flood” has too much water.


Steele noted that in addition to the shallow “A-O” flood zone of the area of west Mt. Vernon and Avon, the water would carry a velocity of four to six feet per second.  (On 6/15/82 Steele stated “studies have shown an adult could not stand up in three-foot deep water running three feet per second.  Shouldn’t areas of high velocity be designated as floodways?



Federal agency can’t afford new Burlington flood study

FEMA officials say they cannot afford the extra half-million dollars it would cost to make a complete topographical study of the flood plain delta in the Burlington area.  As a result, FEMA officials are endorsing the recent flood insurance study prepared by . . . Dames and Moore – a study that significantly increases the availability of federal flood insurance.  . . . “The study we ended up doing was the most practical for the conditions we had up there,” he said.  Bad financial straits were definitely one of those conditions.  The federal government has already spent approximately $600,000 since 1975 on studies of the Skagit River . . . Most of that went into studies by the Army Corps of Engineers and included – not just the delta – but the entire upriver area of the Skagit.  The population just isn’t here to support tossing another half million into the project, Steele said.  “Spending about $1.3 million for 50,000 people is hard to justify,” Steele said.  We could have spent an additional half million dollars doing detailed topography … but we’re not sure that would have given us a better product.  . . .  The new map shows expected flood elevations as much as five feet below previous levels predicted for the area from /Skagit Street in Burlington to Interstate 5.  The figures on flood elevations may be off some, but Steele said FEMA has “averaged the risk” by understating the case in certain areas.



The population just isn’t here to support tossing another half million into the project.  This is why we are in the dilemma we have in 2007.  The government (FEMA) didn’t do the right kind of a study in 1983. 


The statement, “The figures on flood elevations may be off some”, is certainly an understatement. 



New federal flood elevations for MV called “workable”

As it turns out, all the hoopla was worth it.  City Engineer John Wiseman said Tuesday that base flood elevation figures recently released by FEMA are “workable.”  . . .  For example, FEMA officials tried to tell West Mt. Vernon residents new construction there would have to be elevated more than 13 feet in order for the city to remain in the federal flood insurance program.  In a meeting with city officials and council members Tuesday, however, FEMA director Chuck Steele presented base flood elevations that state flooding in the west part of the city may only reach three feet.  Other “horror stories” previously prepared by the Army Cops of Engineers described base flood elevations of up to nine feet in the downtown area, Steele said.  The base (or 100-year) flood elevations now listed on FEMA’s flood plain map show a shallow one-foot sheet flow heading through the downtown area, Steele said.



“The base (or 100-year) flood elevations now listed on FEMA’s flood plain map show a shallow one-foot sheet flow heading through the downtown area”, Steele said.


This is the same area that was 12 feet below the 1990/1995 flood levels of the Skagit River.




Flood woes confound Burlington council


The Burlington City Council just doesn’t understand the mixed signals it’s getting these days from the state Dept. of Ecology and FEMA.    Among the problems is the recent FIS sponsored by FEMA and adopted by the council.  The study, conducted by Dames and Moore proposed flood elevations substantially lower than those established I earlier studies by the Army Corps of Engineers and still accepted in practice by the DOE.  . . .  If the city doesn’t get more actively involved in the process, said Boudinot, “we could be swept away by these other agencies.”  “How do we issue building permits?” Boudinot asked.  “The flood zone control permits won’t be processed.” . . .  The recent study done by Dames and Moore “spread the risk” for flood damage, while the old Army Corps of Engineers study assumed the Skagit River dikes could break almost anywhere in the event of a major flood.  As a result, the risk of damage is higher near the dikes, the 1974 Corps study concluded.  “There’s no way to tell which assumption is correct.  We’re caught in the middle,” Boudinot said.  . . .  Yet FEMA supported the FIS findings and appears unwilling to spend the money it would take to provide completely new scientific data on the base flood elevations – the sole basis for appeal on the FIS findings.  “If the federal government can’t pay for it … how can we pay for it?” City Supervisor Stan Kersey asked?  However, Boudinot found no argument with last week’s letter from FEMA official Brian Mrazik to Mayor Ray Henery in which Mrazik said FEMA recognized that most of the overbank flow would occur over Interstate 5 in the vicinity of the George Hopper Interchange between Gages Slough and the drive-in theater, and between Burlington-Edison High School and Cook Road. 




Approximately 80% of the overbank flow would cross the highway at those points, FEMA said.  Remaining flow would pass through Gages Slough and other drainages and road underpasses.  “It is FEMA’s opinion that these types of areas should be kept free of fill and other obstructions or otherwise managed as floodways,” Mrazik said.


See FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS.  If FEMA in 2007 is going to put a floodway through Burlington shouldn’t it be based on where the water is going to flow.



If we would widen the three bridge corridor and allow the water to flow out onto the floodplain before it gets to Mt. Vernon we would get rid of floodway issue for our Urban areas.




DOE takes issue with flood levels

The state Department of Ecology has appealed the federal Flood Insurance Study findings on elevations in the Skagit flood pain, DOE officials announced Tuesday.  . . .  DOE officials disagree with the conclusions reached in FEMA’s study and – depending on how FEMA handles the appeal – the upshot could be more restrictions on development in the flood plain.  “We will continue to use the Corps’ numbers,” Louthain said.  . . .  FEMA says there will be no overtopping anywhere from upstream of Mt. Vernon all the way to the south end of Mt. Vernon,” Louthain said.  “But the Corps and DOE say we can get a (levy) failure anywhere.  History has proven we can.  Consequently, we get higher elevations throughout the area.”  . . .  In one example, the FEMA study would have no floodwaters at the intersection of Anacortes Street and Fairhaven in Burlington.  The Corps version endorsed by DOE would have three feet of water at the same location, Louthain said.  FEMA official Chuck Steele, however, said the Corps elevations are not necessarily more valid than those adopted by FEMA.  “You can’t have those breaks everywhere,” Steele said.



“You can’t have those breaks everywhere,”

But isn’t that exactly what the “new” FEMA process in 2007 is doing by pretending there are no levees anywhere on the right bank while leaving the left bank levees in tact?  (See FEMA letter 5/22/84)


Water has been at Anacortes Street and Fairhaven before.  (See 12/3/09 The Journal, 1/4/18 B.J., 12/16/21 B.J., 12/22/21 Argus, )  However, no indication it was ever 3 feet deep although water east of that location did flow very swift when the levy broke in 1921.



Commissioners vote to join FEMA’s regular flood insurance program

In a unanimous vote, the commissioners took advantage of the “early conversion” plan offered by FEMA to change from the current emergency insurance program to the regular phase of the program.  . . .  FEMA has published proposed flood elevations for unincorporated Skagit County and the latest FIS and maps by Dames and Moore are on file at the county Permit Center.  . . .  Appeals will be directed to Skagit County, Schofield pointed out to the board.  FEMA has ruled out all “frivolous appeals” by stating appeals must be based on scientific or technical data contrary to the recently completed study, Schofield said.



So after 9 years of studies and 600 to 750,000 dollars of taxpayer money, we approve the FIS.

Having a flood insurance study based on “scientific and technical data” that excludes local history is like having a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich without the bread.



Burlington council delays on flood plain

For the second time this month, the Burlington City Council delayed action Tuesday night on a proposed flood-plain ordinance.  The flood-plain ordinance is the “most liberal” compromise available from FEMA said Steve Ladd, city planner.  The new law would create “conveyance areas,” which are defined as locations that are three feet or more below the 100- year flood plain.  . . .  The more restrictive “floodway” designation was limited to river channels and areas extending 50 feet from the base of the river dikes.



It will be interesting to see in 2007 how Burlington modifies its ordinance since with the new maps most of the city is 3 feet or more below the 100 year flood plain.



Burlington council winds up long debate over flood plain ordinance

First, they called it a “drainage area.”  Then it was a “conveyance area.”  Now, it’s a “special flood risk zone.”  In short, Gages Slough is anything but a floodway, the city has decided.  “We just gave it a different name,” said City Planner Steve Ladd.  . . .  The Burlington City Council finally put an end to months of talking Thursday and adopted a flood-plain ordinance that included the new language.  . . .  The “special flood risk zone” includes those portions of Gages Slough having a ground elevation that is three feet or more below the 100-year flood plain elevation and that have “alignment with other such areas along Gages Slough to allow passage of flood waters.”  . . . The special zone also takes in areas lying within 300 feet of the landward toe of dike levees along the Skagit River – or those areas that can expect to experience greater velocities in times of flooding.



Interesting how you can get around federal regulations simply by calling a floodway a different name.  Now the majority of the town is 3 feet or more below the 100 year flood level.  And whatever happened to the B zones, those areas adjacent to Gages Slough that were above the 100 year floodplain?  Are they now depicted underwater?