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After being sent back to drawing board, flood maps finally inked

UPPER VALLEY - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and King County officials released the much-anticipated preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps of the Upper Snoqualmie Valley to the public last Wednesday.

The maps, which show areas in the Valley that fall into floodplains and floodways, include the Middle and South Forks of the Snoqualmie River - from the Meadowbrook Bridge up to the Mount Si Bridge for the Middle Fork, and from the mouth up to the crossing of Interstate 90 for the South Fork.

The last set of maps for the North Bend and Snoqualmie areas were produced back in 1995. The 1995 maps contained some existing levees in North Bend that officials no longer wanted taken into account, so a call for new maps was made.

When the next set was produced by the Army Corps of Engineers, they were criticized by local officials and landowners as not being accurate. The maps were scrapped, and the county offered to pay for local municipalities to develop the maps themselves. The new maps, drawn by Tong Righellis of the Vancouver, Wash.-based Harper, Houf and Righellis planning firm, were released last week.

Jim Gildersleeve, a North Bend city councilman and member of the North Bend Flood Hazard Prevention Committee, said the maps are the best he has seen.

"They are the best maps backed by the best science," Gildersleeve said.

The maps are important and were eagerly anticipated because people who reside in flood-prone areas are eligible for flood insurance backed by the federal government. The maps also help local municipalities establish building regulations, since they show how deep each area would flood during a 100-year event.

"We had excellent cooperation in making the maps," said King County Rivers Section Senior Engineer Jeanne Stypula. "There is a real value in them."

Rhonda Montgomery, permit administrator for the city of Snoqualmie, said she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the maps because the only areas that are affected are under public ownership near Meadowbrook Farm and are exempt from any future development.

"We were very pleased with the results, at least for the city of Snoqualmie," Montgomery said.

The implications for the city of North Bend, however, are expected to be far greater. Gildersleeve predicted that the new maps double the size of the floodplain, which includes all of downtown North Bend. Since there is little within the city that is not affected by the new maps, Gildersleeve said North Bend will have some tough times ahead with real estate prices going down.

He said residents in North Bend will have a strong say in how the city manages development in the wake of the new maps.

"Everyone who votes in North Bend lives in a floodway or a floodplain," Gildersleeve said.

The maps will now be sent to FEMA for a final inspection process that includes review and public comment, although Gildersleeve predicted they will encounter little debate from North Bend or the county. If approved, they will go into effect by next spring or summer.

The flood map for the city of North Bend is available at the North Bend Public Library, 115 E. Fourth St. in North Bend. The map for the city of Snoqualmie is available at the Snoqualmie City Administration Building, 7970 Railroad Ave. S.E. in Snoqualmie. Residents in unincorporated King County should contact Stypula at (206) 296-8380.

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