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With assets at risk from flooding, Green River Valley businesses plan for worst

BOEING  has installed eight-foot-high HESCO barriers at its facilities in the Green River Valley, including its sprawling plant in Kent on the West Valley Highway not far from the Green River.  Charles Cortes - Charles Cortes, Kent Reporter
BOEING has installed eight-foot-high HESCO barriers at its facilities in the Green River Valley, including its sprawling plant in Kent on the West Valley Highway not far from the Green River. Charles Cortes
— image credit: Charles Cortes, Kent Reporter

With the potential for flooding just around the corner and many assets to protect on the Green Valley floor, many local businesses are preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.

At Boeing’s Kent facilities on West Valley Highway, for example, the company has erected an eight-foot-high wall around its complex to try and keep out the water.

“There’s some crucial systems and programs that are going on that we need to take every measure we can take to protect,” said Boeing spokesperson Bill Cogswell.

Cogswell said it is the three- to five-year threat of flood waters having to be released from the Howard Hanson Dam that led to Boeing’s decision to build the wall, made of a steel mesh and fabric reinforced with sand and known as a HESCO barrier.

“Those barriers will stay up until the dam is permanently repaired,” Cogswell said, adding that there are numerous defense programs, communications systems and data center equipment located in Kent. “It’s important to protect the sites.”

Cogswell said the company was not commenting on the cost of building the wall but said all of Boeing’s sites were taking the flood threat seriously and the company was doing everything it could to protect its facilities and employees should the water start to rise.

“We’re all hoping for a dry winter, but we have to plan for the worst,” he said. “We’re going to make every effort we can to be prepared.”

Not all businesses have the financial resources of Boeing, however. For Northwest Harvest, a non-profit organization with a 94,000-square-foot warehouse in the Kent Valley, building a wall around the facility would not be feasible due to the “astronomical” cost, said Claire Acey, director of communications, but the company is still preparing the best it can.

“Our Kent distribution is kind of the hub for us,” Acey said, adding that it is the largest of the group’s three centers and serves approximately 600,000 client services per month.

More than 24 million pounds of food was moved through the Kent facility in the 2008-09 fiscal year, Acey said.

NW Harvest has had a “continuity of operations plan” in place for the past couple of months as the threat of flooding has grown closer.

“We know it’s going to be tested by this flood,” she said.

Acey described the group’s plan as “first and foremost, protect the food.” To do so, anything that can be lifted off ground level is being moved. NW Harvest purchased an emergency generator to keep the refrigerators running and is building a cement wall around the generator to protect it, Acey said.

Also, cracks in the warehouse’s floor were filled to further protect the generator.

“By sealing that floor off we’ve prevented the water from seeping down and damaging that generator,” she said.

As for the facility, another asset of the non-profit organization, Acey said they were looking into an Aquafence, but fear it is too expensive. Acey said sandbags would be used to protect as much as possible, but it was “not realistic” to use them to surround the entire building.

One of the valley’s largest retail facilities, Kent Station, is hoping that its slightly higher elevation and surrounding railroad tracks provide a measure of protection from the water.

“We’re up a little bit,” General Manger John Hinds said, adding that he and his staff have reviewed the flood maps of the area. “We’re generally in the lower-risk area.”

But that does not mean Kent Station is completely out of the trouble zone. Hinds said Kent Station management is reviewing all of the information available from local agencies and is trying to “be smart” about how it prepares for this winter’s potential weather.

Hinds said the mall has purchased additional insurance, including for flooding and interruptions in business operations, which he called “most important for any business.”

Hinds said one of the main concerns for the shopping center will deal with opening if there is low-lying water. Hinds said the management would look at any flood on a case-by-case basis and make decisions based on surrounding water.

“We think we’ll be prepared,” he said.

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