Feds stiff local officials who heeded federal warnings of Green River flood perils
The Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down a second request to reimburse local jurisdictions for flood preparations stirred by warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Seattle Times Editorial
THE Federal Emergency Management Agency should reconsider its refusal to reimburse flood-protection costs for the Green River Valley.
After nasty storms in January 2009, state government, King County and local jurisdictions responded to dire warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers about the risks of flooding and failure of Howard Hanson Dam.
Federal experts fearful of a 1-in-3 chance of a catastrophe at a federal facility banged the drum to get local governments to act, and they did. By the summer of 2009, those who knew the dam best were telling everyone to prepare for the worst.
And they did, with swift, appropriate concern for the people, buildings, houses, commerce and communities downstream.
FEMA's facile rejection of a joint $31 million claim seems especially stingy in the scheme of things. Those local expenditures would have saved federal resources vast sums if something had indeed gone horribly wrong.
Imperatives from federal engineers and hydrologists not only triggered local government spending on levees, relocation of key facilities and extensive public notification, but private businesses also took the warnings seriously and prepared accordingly.
The state, King County, and the cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila embraced the challenges and worked to protect people and property.
Why did they act? Because the owners and operators of the dam said something truly awful could happen — and might happen at a dam whose compromised condition had been suspect for nearly a half century.
FEMA's denial of the request, and rejection of a subsequent appeal, is grounded in word play. Imminent versus immediate. Game playing to avoid a reimbursement the agency has made in other settings after other emergencies were mercifully avoided.
Next time storms rage in the Green River Valley, to whom will local officials pay attention, the Army Corps of Engineers or lawyers and accountants high and dry at FEMA?
Reconsider the payment and reimburse those who acted on advice of experts.