River project suffers delay

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - A project to widen the Snoqualmie River near the Falls to reduce flooding in the city of Snoqualmie will not be completed this summer as originally planned, officials with the project said last week.

At a meeting in Carnation last Thursday to discuss downstream mitigation for the Snoqualmie River Flood Damage Reduction Project, also known as the 205 project, Paul Cooke of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dave Clark with the King County Water and Land Resources Division's Rivers Section said excavation of material along the right and left banks of the river has been delayed until next year at the earliest.

"... The project is not going to get built this summer," Clark, manager of the Rivers Section, told a group of Lower Valley landowners at Carnation Elementary School.

That's because officials have yet to agree on the final plans for the project, and necessary permits have not been obtained.

"We haven't applied for any permits yet, and we don't have any yet," Clark said, adding that it could prove difficult to remove nearly 50,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock from the Snoqualmie River in this age of having to comply with federal endangered species regulations.

"The permitting on this project, by any stretch, is no slam dunk," he said.

In addition to the lack of permits, Clark said the $3 million project's sponsors - the city of Snoqualmie, King County and the Corps of Engineers - have not signed interlocal agreements, a process that could take the remainder of the year to complete.

According to the original plan, permitting and signing the interlocal agreements would be finalized this spring, with construction of the project beginning in July and ending in September.

The 205 project is the latest in a series of proposals over the past two decades to reduce flooding in the city of Snoqualmie. It follows a "three element" approach to lowering water levels in the city in the event of a flood. The elements are:

  • Removing dirt and rock along a 340-foot stretch of the right bank upstream of Snoqualmie Falls.

  • Taking out more material along a 500-foot section of the left bank downstream of the State Route 202 bridge.

  • Removing an abandoned railroad bridge downstream of Snoqualmie.

In addition, the project would stabilize the right bank of the river at a bend downstream of the SR 202 bridge.

By completing those elements, county and Corps engineers believe the project would reduce flooding in Snoqualmie by allowing water to pass more quickly through the city. According to Corps estimates, it would reduce flood levels for a common five-year flood by 0.7 feet, and for a 100-year flood it would lower water levels by 1.2 feet.

In comparison, the 1990 flood, which turned Snoqualmie streets into a series of small lakes, is thought to be a 71-year flood event, meaning the likelihood of such a flood occurring is once every 71 years, according to the Corps of Engineers' 1999 report on the project.

The 205 project is also expected to lessen the financial impact of flooding to Snoqualmie. With more than 600 houses sitting in the 100-year floodplain, the city averages more than $1.6 million a year in flood-related damages. Finishing the project would save Snoqualmie an average of more than $830,000 a year, Corps engineers said.

Because water would flow more quickly through the city and over Snoqualmie Falls, there is a chance the project would affect downstream residents. A revised analysis by the Corps of Engineers states during a 100-year flood event, the flood peak at Fall City would increase by about 0.1 foot, and it would be less than 0.1 feet at Carnation. The project would have no measurable impact downstream of Duvall.

At the meeting last week, Tom Bean, a senior engineer with the Rivers Section, said Snoqualmie, King County and the Corps of Engineers had agreed to increase the mitigation budget for the river-widening plan to $660,000. Snoqualmie and King County would each contribute $100,000, and the Corps would fund the remaining $460,000. All of the money would be used for elevating houses and other structures in the Lower Valley's 100-year floodplain, about 600 in all from below the Falls to the county line.

Bean said if all 600 structures were elevated, under the expanded mitigation program landowners would receive $1,100 for each building. He added that the price of elevating a house is typically about $60,000.

But it's probable not everyone would enroll in the program, and there may be landowners whose applications have been approved but who fail to elevate their house or barn. That would increase the amount of money landowners receive through the program. If only 100 structures are raised, landowners would get $6,600 for each structure.

Some downstream residents balked at that idea.

"This mitigation doesn't do anything for me whatsoever because I don't have the 50 grand," said Erick Haakenson, who has a farm near Carnation.

Ian Macrae of Fall City suggested that if the project is built, the county should streamline the permitting process for landowners who choose to take part in the elevation program. He said it would help limit "a lot of the emotional outrage" residents feel toward the 205 project.

Lower Valley landowners along the Snoqualmie River have repeatedly questioned the wisdom of proceeding with the project because it could potentially affect people living downstream. But Bean said in this instance, the benefits outweigh any possible disadvantage.

"In this process, we seek to change and improve a life-threatening situation in Snoqualmie," he said.

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