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Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - Page updated at 01:23 PM

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Editorial

Levees to lahar, disaster preparation

Two local governments are planning to make their communities safer in case of disaster. King County Executive Ron Sims is right to ask the County Council to adopted a countywide flood-control district.

And in the small Pierce County town of Orting, money is being secured for a bridge that can be used to get to high ground in case of a lahar — a catastrophic slide of debris produced by an eruption of Mount Rainier.

The expensive consequences of the failure of man-made environmental constraints was starkly displayed in New Orleans last year when levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Northwest communities could encounter similar destruction in the case of a massive earthquake, volcanic eruption or heavy rains.

Sims' idea for a county flood district would cost taxpayers $15 to $30 a year on a $300,000 home. This would go to cover repairs and projects that would cost about $335 million. Think of it as an investment against crippled businesses and home owners being washed out in the chance of floods.

Having a county district would allow a focused approach to flood and levee needs, instead of responding in patchwork.

The Orting bridge is an easier threat to perceive than the rivers of King County. Orting, which is built atop previous lahar debris, is reminded daily of its precarious position with Mount Rainier looming nearby.

If the volcano erupted today, residents would have to race across town to a bridge over the Puyallup River. The new bridge over the Carbon River would be near two schools and shorten the distance to high ground and safety.

The bridge project got help this week with a $646,000 federal grant. There is already $2.7 million earmarked for the $6 million to $12 million estimate for the bridge.

We live in a region with the potential of natural disasters that can be exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure. It makes sense to invest in safeguards now instead of paying for widespread destruction later. New Orleans taught us that.

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