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205 project not sunk, just treading water

SNOQUALMIE - It should have been done by now.

This year should have been the first to see the benefits of the Snoqualmie River Flood Damage Reduction Project, designed to reduce flood waters in the city of Snoqualmie, which over time would save residents millions of dollars in damage to their property.

The Snoqualmie River should have had its right and left banks widened between Snoqualmie Falls and the State Route 202 bridge. An old railroad bridge downstream of the city - only half of it still standing - should have been dismantled.

With that work completed, the city should be realizing a 0.7-feet reduction in flooding during a common five-year flood, meaning the likelihood of such a flood occurring is once every five years, and a 1.1-feet decrease in a 50-year flood. The 600 Snoqualmie houses sitting in the 100-year floodplain should be saving an average of $830,000 a year in flood-related damages.

But the $3.1 million Snoqualmie River Flood Damage Reduction Project, also called the 205 project, has often seemed threatened to be overrun by a river of bureaucratic red tape. Plans to reduce flooding in Snoqualmie have been kicked around since the 1960s. Much grander in scope, they included levees, dams, reservoirs and extensive channel widening of the Snoqualmie River. Other Valley cities, such as North Bend and Carnation, have been the benefactors of previous flood-reduction efforts.

The 205 project entails three main elements: excavating 340 linear feet of the right bank of the Snoqualmie River near the Falls; excavating 500 feet of the left bank just downstream of the SR 202 bridge; and removing the railroad bridge. The net effect of the project is to straighten the river, allowing water to flow more quickly through the city in the event of a flood.

"I've been waiting 30 years for a flood project," said Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher. "I won't take my foot off the accelerator."

Snoqualmie and King County are sponsors for the 205 project, which was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government would fund 65 percent of the $3.1 million price tag.

The project represents the city's best chance to limit the damage caused by high waters during the wet winter months, and officials are chomping at the bit for it to begin. That was supposed to happen last summer, but it was delayed because a project cooperation agreement (PCA) between King County, the lead sponsor, and the Corps of Engineers hadn't been signed.

The fate of that agreement hinges upon the state Department of Ecology granting a water quality certificate for the 205 project. Snoqualmie City Attorney Pat Anderson explained the certificate spells out that the Snoqualmie River and Kimball Creek will not fall below established water quality standards once work - including blasting to remove material from the right and left banks of the river - begins.

The city hopes to obtain the certificate within the next few weeks. Then the PCA would go before the Metropolitan King County Council.

"Our direction has been pedal to the metal, and we're doing everything we can to facilitate it [granting the water quality certificate]," said Snoqualmie Public Works Director Kirk Holmes.

Having the PCA signed this year is important because President Bush is already proposing that the Corps of Engineers drastically scale back its projects in 2003. The PCA would secure the federal dollars so that even if the 205 project was delayed again, the money would still be there.

Already, some are saying the in-stream excavation probably won't begin until 2003.

"It seems clear that it [the 205 project] isn't all going to be built this year," said Tom Bean, a senior engineer with the King County Flood Hazard Reduction Services Section. But work would most likely begin on tearing down the railroad bridge and stabilizing the right bank of the Snoqualmie River upstream of the SR 202 bridge.

"When you start adding up the time it takes ... it just doesn't look possible that it could be done in time to use this year's fish window for excavation work on the channel," Bean said of the July-through-October construction period and the bidding process for the 205 project.

Fletcher said should the PCA be signed by the County Council, he wants work on the project to begin sooner rather than later, and that includes the in-stream excavation.

"I'm not going to let the Corps off the hook by saying the money is locked up," he said.

The 205 project has been criticized by downstream residents who say it will exacerbate the potential for flooding. According to a 2001 study, the 100-year flood peak at Fall City would increase by 0.1 feet because of the project, while in Carnation it would increase by less than 0.1 feet.

The flood peak is also expected to arrive 15 to 20 minutes sooner at both Fall City and Carnation. Downstream of Duvall, the 205 project is believed to have no impact.

On Tuesday, March 19, the Carnation City Council considered a resolution stating its opposition to the 205 project. The council meeting was held after the Valley Record went to press.

"One of the issues for the council is why should an upstream community benefit to the detriment of a downstream community?" said City Manager Woody Edvalson. "I think part of the city's concern is no one has told us what the additional impact of 1.5 inches to Carnation is."

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