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Flood fighters won’t throw in towel: Lower Valley Alliance wants reconsideration of Army Corps decision
On the heels of another court loss, the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance is still fundraising, still fighting.
“We haven’t given up, and we will not give up, until every option is exhausted,” said Erick Haakenson, a Carnation farmer and member of the SVPA board of directors.
The SVPA (www.svpa.us) is a group of Valley residents, farms, and dairies that united in an effort to address the causes of increasing Lower Valley flooding. They are enmeshed in a legal battle with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which they claim erroneously authorized its lowering of the dam at Snoqualmie Falls and the multi-million dollar update of Puget Sound Energy facilities there, under a general nationwide permit permit, or GNP, provision.
The SVPA filed a lawsuit against the Corps in 2010, calling for a down-river impact study before the project could proceed, and Puget Sound Energy petitioned the court to become a co-defendant.
At public meetings in 2009, project representatives indicated that, based on the data collected from past flooding events and their projections, the project would increase flood levels in the lower Valley by about one inch.
The SVPA’s initial suit was rejected in March, 2011, by Judge John Cougneour. They argued their appeal May 8 of this year in Seattle, before a panel of three judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and received notice of their decision, again in favor of the Corps, on June 26.
Undaunted, Alliance members plan to continue their efforts to mitigate flooding in the lower Valley, both by legal action and, Haakenson hopes in the future, by collaborating with other agencies.
“We don’t want to simply be known as people who litigate,” he explained, because it’s expensive, complicated and an avenue of last resort. The SVPA formed about six months after the public comment deadline for the current work at the Falls, he said, “but we’re paying attention now when stuff happens up there, and trying to get involved, and working with government, instead of always fighting against.”
They’ve also hired a hydrologist to review projects and help them stay better informed.
“We would like now,… to get together with one of the governing bodies and say, ‘Hey, we still want and need this study,’” he continued, and he’s optimistic that within a few years, the recently formed King County Flood Control District will dedicate funds to completing a study, estimated at $400,000, of the entire Snoqualmie River basin.
The lack of a down-river study is at the heart of the SVPA’s suit against the Corps, not the project itself.
“We’re not asking for the cessation of all flooding… historic levels of flooding are really good for the Valley (farmland),” Haakenson said. “We’re looking to cut off the top cfs (cubic feet per second)… so instead of rolling through here at 65,000 cfs, it will be rolling through at 40,000, like it used to.”
Flood protection afforded the city of Snoqualmie by the project is not in question.
“I can officially speak for the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance when I say we don’t have any misgivings about flood control in the city of Snoqualmie. The city needs to be protected,” Haakenson said.
The Snoqualmie 205 project completed in 2005 did that, lowering future floods by an estimated 2.5 feet. That project, Phase 1 of the current work being done at the Falls according to Corps attorneys at the appeal hearing, Haakenson said, was projected to increase downstream flooding by 2 inches in Carnation. Instead, the Valley has seen three of the four biggest floods on record since the project began.
Haakenson was encouraged at the May 8 appeal hearing by the Corps’ admission that there had been no downriver study, and was therefore surprised and disappointed when the appeal failed.
“It seemed to us logically, and legally, I think, that if you’re going to do a major project upriver, you’re at least morally, if not legally bound, to determine what the impacts will be downstream,” he said.
He doesn’t know what such a study would reveal, but he does know that if it determines the impact of the Falls work is larger than projected, he wants the Corps to address some of the damage done by the project.
He also knows that “It could turn out that we can’t do anything (to mitigate or prevent future damage) responsibly… and if we can’t, we shouldn’t.”
A spokeswoman for the Corps, Patricia Graesser had little to say about the appeals court ruling, except that it was in the Corps favor, and “the permits were consistent with the Corps’ authority.”
Regarding the SVPA’s request for a basin-wide study, she said the Corps is actively involved in several in the state, including Chehalis, Puyallup, and Skagit. Such studies must be requested by a local sponsor, who shares the cost of the study equally, she added.
Haakenson is confident the study will eventually be undertaken, and hopes SVPA will be involved in it somehow.