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Friday, July 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sims calls for new district to fix levees, control flooding

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County Executive Ron Sims, standing Thursday on a Green River flood-control levee that is slumping toward the river, proposed a countywide flood-control district to protect some of the region's most important commercial areas.

If approved by the County Council, the district would pay up to $335 million in levee repairs and other flood-control projects on rivers from Auburn to Carnation. The biggest projects would be on the Snoqualmie, Cedar and Green rivers.

Sims stood on a Kent levee that developed cracks last winter after it was weakened by four weeks of rain. "We looked at the levees and found that some were hollowed out and some were deteriorating," he said.

"It's just going to be a matter of time. When that matter of time means we have a breach, believe me, the cost of recovery will exceed the investment we could have, and should have, made in a levee system that works."

Sims has asked the County Council to replace the existing Green River flood district with a countywide district but didn't specify what size property tax he would seek. His staff estimated the tax on a $300,000 home would be from $15 to $30 a year, depending on whether the county decides to pay for all its flood-control needs or just the most urgent projects.

The highest-priority repairs are priced at $179 million.

Weakened levees will become an even greater risk, Sims said, if global warming brings more severe winter storms, as some scientists predict.

Information


To view the plan: The 2006 King County Flood Hazard Management Plan is posted at www.dnr.metrokc.gov/wlr/flood/fhrpupdate.htm

The number of major rainy-season storms has increased over the past 50 years, said Rick Palmer, a University of Washington civil- and environmental-engineering professor. "This should be a clear warning there is no place for complacency," he said.

Charles Ifft, a civil engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, said there is "a very real likelihood" that some levees on the lower Green River will be decertified and nearby areas reclassified as flood plains unless King County fixes the levees. Some lenders, including the federal government, require flood insurance as a condition for obtaining home loans in designated flood plains.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency — which makes the certification decision based on advice from the Corps of Engineers — on Monday asked the county and suburban cities to show that their levees meet federal standards. The county's just-completed inventory of its levees shows some are unstable and at risk of failing in a major storm.

Joining Sims in support of a countywide flood district were Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, Renton Mayor Kathy Keolker, Tukwila City Councilman Dennis Robertson, and Ron Hansen, a Shoreline city councilman and Suburban Cities Association president.

The city officials said residents and businesses throughout the county depend on the highways, retailing, warehousing and manufacturing in flood-prone areas of Tukwila, Renton, Kent and Auburn. Several noted that Boeing's top-selling 737 commercial airliner is assembled in Renton near the Cedar River.

Emergency repairs during storms in 1990 and 1995 barely prevented a failing levee on the Green River from flooding the Southcenter retail district.

"This is a countywide economic project," Hansen said of Sims' plan for a flood district. The $179 million cost of the most-needed levee repairs is "a lot of money," Hansen said, "but it doesn't compare to the billions of dollars' damage that were created in New Orleans as a result of levee failure."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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