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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
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
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