Tolt River homeowners oppose flood plan idea

Some 30 Carnation-area residents gathered Aug. 8 to oppose a preliminary county proposal they fear, if adopted, could force them out of their homes in the name of flood control. The meeting was an informal gathering of property owners and county representatives at the Carnation Fire Station.

Included in County Executive Ron Sims' massive flood control plan - now being considered by the King County Council for adoption - is a proposal to move the south dike on the Tolt River several hundred feet farther south. In the way are about 16 homes.

Tom Bean, senior county flood plain engineer, said the plan is just a concept at this point. There are no engineering studies behind it to determine actual cost, if it's the best available option to stave off flooding in the area or even if it's a top-priority flood control project in the county, he said.

"This is just a planning document," Bean said. "When it comes to actually doing [a project], we start from scratch."

The idea that the proposal was just a plan on paper didn't sit well with most of the residents, many of whom said a paper plan was a step toward eviction.

"Once you get the money, there's no chance of stopping you," said Gary Remlinger, owner of Remlinger Farms, which would be affected by the proposal. "I see it as a chain reaction, one project leads to another. We see a slippery slope."

Another flood-control project at the mouth of the Tolt River - 1.1 miles downstream where it empties into the Snoqualmie River - is in the final stages of a four-year approval process. It proposes moving the river's north dike about 800 feet north, farther into Tolt-MacDonald Park, to widen the river's flood plain and get more protection from a dike of the same height as the existing one.

If that's approved, it's only a matter of time before the county decides to continue expanding the river's flood plain and looks to the paper plan as an approved guide to what should be done for flood control in the area, residents said.

"Taking people's homes should be a last resort, it's very draconian," said 18-year area resident Selim Uzuner, who's property is one of those that stands to be affected if the southern levee is moved.

John Koon, one of the county's three river and floodplain directors, said property owners would have a choice to sell to the county or not.

"We don't throw people out of their homes," he said. Koon said the price King County would pay for homes would be determined by a third party setting a fair market value as if the house weren't in a flood area. Many of the homeowners said they doubted they'd get a fair deal. They also said that they wouldn't be able to afford comparable homes in today's real estate market.

The process toward actual implementation of the proposed plan is a long one, county representatives said. First, the King County Council would have to adopt Sims' plan. Then there likely would be several months of public hearings and comment before that is accomplished.

Then, the county would have to prioritize projects and determine which would gain the most protection with the best use of limited money. If this Tolt River project makes the list, the county then would look at all the available options. Several alternatives were discussed at the Aug. 8 meeting including moving the north levee farther north to encourage the river to flood onto county property where there is a former river channel; rebuilding the south levee in its current location; and replacing the trail bridge, a former railroad bridge, with something that would provide less obstruction to the river water in the event of a flood.

All the options discussed are potentially-viable alternatives, Bean said.

To make sure the county doesn't get to the point of taking homes, the neighbors formed a committee to oppose the plan. If that means opposing the entire county flood management plan, they said they were willing to do so. After the meeting concluded, many went to the city of Carnation's regularily scheduled City Council meeting at City Hall where city leaders were discussing the other Tolt River flood protection project at the river's mouth.

Remlinger said at least they could show city leaders they don't want the same thing to happen to their homes.

2006 flood control plan

King County maintains a levee system that runs along 119 miles of rivers and protects lives, property and more than $7 billion in economic infrastructure located in the 25,000 acres of floodplain in King County.

A number of major levees are nearing the end of their engineered life spans and show signs of sloughing, cracking and slumping, according to King County engineers.

Sims' plan identifies a range of $179 million to $335 million in priority repairs and upgrades over the next decade, and recommends creating a county-wide flood control district to fund the plan.

His proposal includes the creation of a flood control district in which homeowners would shoulder some of the burden of flood control.

Under the recommendation, the owner of a $300,000 home in King County would pay $15 -$30 per year, depending on how much of the priority flood-protection work is funded.

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