Future of the Weyerhaeuser mill site

Guest Columnist

Flooding in and around the mill site: Flooding in the Snoqualmie community has been a part of the natural environment since the recession of the glacial period. There is ample geological and hydrological evidence of the Snoqualmie River shifting its migratory course throughout the Snoqualmie Valley. The mill pond itself began as a remnant of a former oxbow of the Snoqualmie River. Periodic flooding of the mill site and residential town of Snoqualmie occurs with all too much frequency.

For years, residents and businesses were unable to obtain flood insurance because of the widespread floodway/floodplain zones the Corps of Engineers had designated on both sides of the river. Because Weyerhaeuser Co. is a self-insured company, it is able to rebuild property damaged from flooding. Under the provisions of FEMA, land owners and public jurisdictions can establish a “negotiated floodway” for the purpose of having property excluded (on paper) from the floodway designation. Both parties must offer an equal amount of territory.

In 1982, an unrecorded agreement between Weyerhaeuser and the city of Snoqualmie, under Mayor Darwin Sukut, established a “negotiated floodway,” which was entered upon a map and filed with King County and the Corps of Engineers. For Weyerhaeuser’s part, the negotiated floodway traced a line approximately from the state Route 202 bridge northeasterly through the sort yard toward the old power house, ending at the Burlington Northern Railroad grade. For Snoqualmie’s part, the residential and downtown business districts were included in the negotiated floodway and equal in area to the mill site land being offered in the agreement.

The flooding of homes and businesses in downtown Snoqualmie, as well as shops and the sort yard, didn’t stop with the signing of the agreement. However, more than a hundred homeowners were allowed to purchase flood insurance and rebuild their homes, which would have not been permitted otherwise.

The issue of flooding in downtown Snoqualmie and the contributory role the mill site may have played continues to bother many folks and cuts very deep for some people. And even though apparent good-faith work has been implemented by Weyerhaeuser to address the concerns of the community, an undercurrent persists that not enough has been done. A major component of this concept directly deals with flood reduction and abatement.

How the community values the mill site: Public sentiment considers the Weyerhaeuser mill site a historic site. This is understandable when it is recalled that the mill site was once a “company town” and the center of all social activity in the Upper Valley for almost 40 years.

People who lived in the company housing had their children attend school on the mill site. Those children grew up socializing at the YMCA Community Hall at the mill and many still live in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley today. Regionally, the mill site has historic value because of the many innovations and industrial inventions that came from the minds and hands of the working people for more than five generations.

When the old-growth lumber mill was shut down in 1992, Weyerhaeuser allowed producer/director David Lynch to use the mill site for his epic “Twin Peaks” saga in exchange for a high-quality filming of all the operations and workers within the mill. That film was given to the King County Landmark Commission before the mill was demolished.

Today, the original power house is the last remaining structure of historical significance on the mill site. The masonry of the building and stack evokes the craftsmanship of the early era of the mill. Today it stands as a lone sentinel, reminding the community of all those who found a way of life at the mill site, which manufactured most of the lumber that rebuilt San Francisco after fire gutted that city; provided materials for millions of homes around the world; and was a cornerstone of commerce that built a community that’s rapidly growing away from its historic roots.

Next week: A plan for the new era.

Dick Ryon is a former land use manager for Weyerhaeuser Cascade Operations at Snoqualmie. Contact him by e-mailing RARyon@comcast.net.