Opinion

Flooding issues call for basin-wide approach

An open letter to the mayor and council members of the

city of Snoqualmie:

At the most recent public meeting on the proposed

205 project (Jan. 10 in Carnation), citizens of the Valley

below Snoqualmie Falls were asked by county representatives to

prioritize a list of possible actions which would

partially mitigate future damages. But no

prioritizing of mitigation options ever occurred. This was because the

citizens that will be affected by this project seem to be unified in

their conviction that the project is untimely and ill advised.

While I don't speak for that group as a whole, I believe

that what I have to say is representative of both that group, and of

the voice of reason. I appeal to the mayor and council members

to carefully consider the following.

The action suggested by proposal 205 is both substantial

and irreparable. The dynamiting and removal of 50,000 cubic-yards

of rock formations that have stood for centuries along the river's

path to the Falls cannot be undone. This irreparable character of

the proposal should lend a measure of caution and solemnity to

its consideration; if 205 is ever implemented, everyone will

have to live in perpetuity with its impacts.

What are the impacts? That is not entirely clear. The first

word was that the project would likely mean between 1 and 6 inches

of increased flooding levels below the Falls. That estimation was

later modified to a "1-inch" increase.

We have now learned (as of the Jan. 10 meeting) that a

new study has been conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers that

will be made public in mid-February. To many of us, the timing of

its release is at least perplexing. Why have we been asked to

mitigate our losses before we even have a chance to see relevant

studies? Furthermore, we were presented with a timeline that calls for

permit approval of this project by April 9. But the permits

haven't even been applied for yet, and a key study will be published

only three weeks prior to the projected approval date. This seems to us

to be a far cry from the careful, deliberative approach that

should accompany a decision about a substantial and irreparable

alteration of the Snoqualmie River.

The credibility of county and Corps studies that attempt

to quantify increased flooding in the Lower Valley needs to be

examined. It might seem that nothing can be said at this point,

because the Corps study has not yet been released. But something

can be said, and must be said.

The Corps study, like the county study, is seriously

flawed, as representatives of the county have already admitted. Let

me explain. A general skepticism about the credibility of

"impact studies" may always carry some warrant. But reasonable

people recognize that even though we aren't completely sure about a

result, if we base our actions on the best data attainable, then it

may be reasonable to act.

But 205 clearly is not based on the best data attainable. Without a hydraulic study for the entire watershed, any prediction on the impacts of develoment or riverbed modification will simply not be based on the best attainable data

Here we come to the heart of the matter. It seems to me (and

to many others) that the city of Snoqualmie is trying to

implement an autonomous and unilateral solution to a problem that

is much larger than the part of it that affects them. It would be nice

to think that 205 is really a "win-win" proposition, as those who

are planning, promoting and profiting from its construction

proclaim so loudly. But it is, at the very least, counterintuitive to

suggest that flooding in the city of Snoqualmie could be reduced

by 2 feet without simply passing that floodwater on to downstream

residents.

From an ethical perspective, it seems to many of us that

since the city of Snoqualmie is willing to accept less than the best

attainable data, and since it supports a break-neck pace for the

approval and completion of 205, it is willingly and culpably ignoring

possible impacts that will exist in perpetuity for its

down-river neighbors.

I wonder if the leadership of Snoqualmie has really

considered how impacted, downstream residents are likely to react?

Citizens of Carnation, Fall City, Duvall, Monroe and areas in between

are unlikely to be satisfied with impact estimates based on less

than the best attainable data. Nor are they likely to be satisfied

with mitigation "solutions" that, at the outset, are stated to provide

less than full compensation. Nor are they likely to accept a

"process" that designates them only as

recipients of more floodwater and more damages. Nor are they

likely to be sympathetic with one city's attempt to protect itself by

taking irreparable actions that will, to an unknown degree, affect

everyone else in perpetuity.

Not only will they be unsympathetic— they won't stand

for it. Legal remedies will be sought, which will delay the project,

add a great deal of expense, and, worst of all, alienate the very

people who should be most united in seeking watershed-wide

solutions to flooding problems.

Why not take a more reasonable course? Don't put more

good time and money into trying to implement a policy that may

(or may not) solve your own problems but only at an unknown

cost to your downstream neighbors. As a council, withdraw your

support of 205. Focus your energy and momentum into cooperative

efforts with the governing bodies of North Bend, Carnation,

Fall City, Duvall, Monroe and with King County employees in

not simply asking for, but demanding a watershed-wide hydraulic study.

Recognize that given the incredibly tight timeline for

this project (permits have not even been applied for;

construction beginning in July!), and given certain legal challenges

once project studies become public, it seems inevitable that this

project will not happen during the July-September construction

window in 2001. Why not avoid making enemies of needed allies?

Take the year you will have anyway and work with others affected

by flooding for a lasting, equitable solution that will first compile

the best data attainable, and then will consider the best interests of

all the citizens of the Snoqualmie River basin.

In the interim period, residents of the city of

Snoqualmie will have to face the same level of flooding they always have.

But they won't have to face the same flooding they always have

plus an undetermined amount more, which is what down-river

residents would be forced to live with, compliments of the city

of Snoqualmie, if 205 were approved and implemented.

Erick Haakenson is the owner of Jubilee Farm

near Carnation.

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