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Floodway Issues Page
2001 LJK E-Mails With FEMA Region X Official, RE: NFIP Policy Enforcement and Floodways “Yes, the floodway, established in 1985, is located between the landward toes of the levee. So, yes, this means that there can be no fill or any other development (outside of the original cross-section) located within this designated floodway. ... Have the levees been raised or widened since the communities joined the NFIP and the FIRMs were published in 1985? If so, this would be a violation of d3”.

One of the most contentious issues in 2007-2008 will be the placement of a floodway in the lower valley in accordance with the NFIP regulations.  This documents represents a small sampling of historic documents that address this issue.  As the documents clearly show a floodway designation was in fact made in the 1980's however was never enforced.


1981-1984 FEMA-BFE Flood Research

Compilation of articles describing the FEMA flood insurance base flood elevation and floodway determination made by FEMA in 1984.

COE legal opinion re liability issues for induce flooding "The alternative that will probably be selected as the recommended plan involves improving the levee system in the Skagit River downstream of Mount Vernon to provide protection from the 50-year Skagit flood, and improving the levees at Mount Vernon and Burlington to provide 100-year protection to the urban areas."  Under the statute cited liability on the US would not be created...However... the dike might establish liability on the part of the local cooperating agency ... "

Floodway Meetings with Skagit County, Burlington, Hamilton, and Lyman

Split floodways, equal conveyance floodways, growth in the City of Burlington, floodway between Burlington and Sterling Hill all were discussed at these meetings.

MFR re meeting in Skagit County re Floodway Designations

MFR documents 9/3/80 meeting in Skagit County re Floodway Designations. Impacts of filling in Burlington on Port property discussed. Burlington worried about “no-growth mandate.” Suggestion was made to let the Flood Control Advisory Committee come up with floodway designation. Corps concerned about filling around the Sterling Hill area. Burlington not sensitive to the filling problem.

Ltr to Corps from FEMA re Floodway Designations

Letter states probable failure points (PFP) not reliable for designating floodways. Decision made to use 1972 overtopping of entire levee system.

MFR re Floodway Designation Methodology

MFR documents discussions between Corps, FEMA and Skagit County re proper method of designating floodways. 1972 study vs. 1000 foot setback from levees discussed.

SVH Article re floodway designation devastation

Skagit Valley Herald article which quotes FEMA official that if local government cannot agree on floodway designation then the Federal government would do it for them.  FEMA would have to use "equal conveyance" method which would "devastate" local economy.  Once floodway is picked dike improvements and dike construction would be prohibited.

MFR re Floodway Designation help from HEC

MFR discusses “density” floodway study being financed by FEMA and getting help from HEC in California on floodway problem for lower Skagit Basin.

MFR re Floodway Designations

MFR documents discussions between Corps and FEMA re floodway designations. Equal conveyance method in lower valley politically unacceptable. FEMA not considering lost storage effects in FIS. Density floodways considered. 40 acre lot size in County could accomplish same thing as density floodway. Corps needed more detailed topography. Potential development between Burlington and Mt. Vernon could eliminate floodway and cause damming effect upstream. Suggested using “C-10” language in FIS.
Mt. Vernon ltr to FEMA re Floodway Designation “If the designated floodway included all of our existing dikes, would we be able to maintain the dikes, repair the dikes or increase the dikes as needed or would we be precluded from doing so by including them in the designation?”

FEMA letter to Art Day

Letter discusses building restrictions in floodways.
FEMA response to MV 6/19/1981 ltr “...if a floodway is designated in the future and the dikes are included in that zone, you would be able to maintain and repair the dikes to their present profile elevations.  Raising the dikes is another matter. Hydraulic studies of the river have shown that increasing the height of the dikes would cause an increase in flood levels upstream. On that basis, your ordinance would have to prohibit such improvements.”

BOC Minutes re floodway designations & dam storage

The minutes reflect the discussion that took place between the BOC and the flood control committee re the 1981 flood control committee report.  Most important is the documentation that PSPL had told the flood committee that the Baker Dams already provided 100 year protection.
FEMA ltr to Burlington re floodway designations “Essentially, we have ruled out floodways developed either through conventional equal conveyance methods or through unsteady state flow modeling at this time.  Instead, we have decided to build on and refine your thoughts regarding density criteria, in conjunction with establishing a minimum floodway that will encompass the channel and overbank areas including levees.

Memorandum for Record re Dames & Moore Study

Floodways should be delineated on FEMA maps as showing only the main channel and the levees on the inside toe (the protected side) of the levees.  Dames & Moore to determine density floodway amount of land to be set aside for 100 yr flood.

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 letter re floodway designation of Gages Slough

This letter discusses why FEMA felt it could not designate Gages Slough as a floodway. Cascade Mall hydraulic study could not be supported by any scientific or technical data. Section 60.3c would be part of local ordinances which would require hydraulic analysis of fill in the Burlington area.

FEMA letter re development restrictions

FEMA informs Dept of Ecology that since a regulatory floodway had not been designated that 60.3(c)(10) would have to be enforced before local or state permits could be issued for building permits.

FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS

This letter explains why the appeal of the Burlington FIS was denied by FEMA. Regulations only require FEMA to use available topographic data. Lands within and including the Skagit River levees were designated as floodways. Unlikely that historical depth of floodwaters would be repeated.
FEMA Flood Insurance Study, City of Burlington, Washington “For the Skagit River proper, the levees confining the channel and adjacent areas have been designated as floodways. In the vicinity of Whitmarsh Road and the old U.S. Highway 99 Bridge (Garl Street), the most landward levees were used to establish the floodway boundary. The purpose of these floodway designations is to preclude any encroachment which would reduce the capacity of the river channel or jeopardize the integrity of the levee system.”
11/08/1984 Transcript of Burlington City Council Meeting November 8, 1984

“Lastly there is the FLOODWAY which in the case of Burlington is only the area that runs landward of the dike by fifty feet. When you’re landward of the dike and your looking towards the river essentially nothing can be built from that distance to the river.” (Steve Ladd, City Planner)

10/10/1996 USACE MFR Re: Skagit River Levee Repairs “As long as any repairs we make to the Skagit River levees replace them in kind, we comply with the standard. If we raise the levees or add material to their riverbank or landward sides, then in my opinion, we must conduct an analysis to comply with the standard.”

See also:  FEMA letter re denial of appeal filed on Burlington FIS
2/2007 Skagit Floodway Mitigation and Hamilton Relocation Program Fact Sheet

Fact sheet explaining the legal requirements and many economic benefits of relocating Hamilton out of the floodplain, "FEMA reports that losses to date for the 100 flood affected properties in Hamilton alone cost public programs and the NFIP close to $20 million."


TV10: May 24, 2007 Town Hall Meeting - FEMA Flood Mapping: How Will It Affect You?
City of Mount Vernon TV10 video hosted on Google Video of May 24, 2007 town hall meeting convened by the Mount Vernon and Burlington Chambers of Commerce.  The City of Burlington, City of Mount Vernon, FEMA and county commissioner candidate Don Gordon all spoke at the meeting.

There is 12 seconds of silence before the movie starts.


Common Questions & Answers Pertaining to the Skagit River FIS (Handout at the May 24, 2007 Town Hall Meeting)

FEMA Q&A regarding the Skagit County Flood Insurance Study - includes a section on floodways.
[Skagit County Government also has a page about this.]


Burlington Chamber of Commerce Agenda and Handout for Town Hall Meeting

Agenda for "FEMA Flood Mapping: How Will It Affect You?" and handout Flood Hazard Mitigation - The Future of The Skagit Valley.  Includes discussion about floodway issues.

8/28/2007 Work Session - Restrictions on Development on Cockreham Island and Other Areas in the ‘Floodway’ Skagit County Public Works explains to the public through Skagit 21 the policy implications and consequences of the floodway designation on building owners.
10/9/2007 Resolution R20070501: A Resolution to Safeguard the Public Welfare by Protecting Property, Life and the Environment in the Floodway Skagit County Commissioners "hereby orders and direct that the public health, safety and general welfare be safeguarded, and that construction or development within the floodways of the Skagit River be prohibited or restricted to the maximum extent allowed by County".
05/21/2009 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) FEMA did not define a floodway for Skagit River delta communities. The City of Burlington must therefore administer their floodplain ordinance in accordance with 44 CFR 60.3 (c) (10) which states: "no new construction, substantial improvements, or other development (including fill) shall be permitted within Zones Al-30 on the community's FIRM unless it is demonstrated that the cumulative effect of the proposed development, when combined with all other existing and anticipated development will not increase the water surface elevation of the base flood more than one foot at any point within the community.
Skagit River Bridge Modification and Interstate Highway Social and Economic Impacts Discipline Report “On the right bank, the City of Burlington has designated a 600-foot-wide strip along the Skagit River as floodway, prohibiting future development within this area. Consequently, levee setback along the right bank will occur within the designated floodway.
Recording of June 12, 2013 Skagit County Hearing Examiner Hearing Recording of the June 12, 2013 Hearing Examiner Hearing, which included Dike District 12's Shoreline Substantial Development Permit PL12-0144 request starting at 21:30.  A transcript is currently being prepared.