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Plan for managing flood risks revealed

1:47 pm August 29th, 2012

Pierce County is making progress toward a plan for managing flood risks on rivers such as the Mashel and Nisqually.

The final environmental impact statement for the county’s proposed Rivers Flood Hazard Management Plan was released last Wednesday. The statement (EIS) evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the plan, as well as alternative approaches.

Officials say the plan will guide the handling of flooding and channel migration hazards on major rivers, large tributaries and associated floodplains over the next 20 years. The goal is to reduce damage from major river flooding and channel migration, protect public safety and improve fish habitat.

“The final EIS “outlines the impacts and benefits of the plan and its alternatives on the earth, water, plants and animals, land and shoreline use, transportation, and public service and utilities, among others,” said Harold Smelt, who heads the surface-water management division of the county’s Public Works and Utilities Department.

The EIS incorporates comments and new information the county received from the public and stakeholders during a review process.

The County Council is expeted to hold a public hearing on the issue after the EIS is reviwed by the council’s Economic Infrastructure and Development Committee Sept. 25.

In 1992, Pierce County adopted the Puyallup River Comprehensive Flood Control Management Plan for the Puyallup, Carbon and White rivers. The proposed new flood management plan will replace the 1992 guidelines by expanding to include the Nisqually, Greenwater and Mashel rivers, and South Prairie Creek.

In December 2009, a committee was formed to advise Pierce County on technical and policy issues related to the proposed flood plan. The committee included 26 representatives from federal, state, local and tribal governments, business, agricultural, and environmental organizations, flood prone communities, and other interested parties. In addition, 14 public meetings were held between March 2010 and February 2012.

Officials said scientific studies have helped increase understanding of the river systems in Pierce County. In addition, an in-depth analysis of the potential economic impacts of major flooding was conducted as part of the work on the impact statement.

The final EIS and the flood plan are available to the public at www.piercecountywa.org/floodplan.

The flood management plan is separate from but related to other efforts by the county  to ward off possible flooding and its effects.

The County Council voted in April to form a countywide flood-control district, saying it’s needed to help protect lives, homes, businesses and the regional economy against potentially catastrophic flooding.

The special-purpose district will administer the collection and spending of funds for flood-protection projects and programs, officials said. The work is expected to include replacement or strengthening of river levees, some of which were built in the 1920s.

Funding for the projects would come from an add-on to property taxes countywide. According to officials, the new levy would be no more than 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which – as an example – amounts to $20 a year on a $200,000 home. The money, which the county would start collecting next year, would be spent only on flood-related actions, officials said.

Supporters of the flood-control district, including County Executive Pat McCarthy and most of the council members, say the district and its eventual projects are required in order to protect businesses, homes and transportation from major flooding.

Councilman Roger Bush, whose district includes the Graham and Eatonville areas, has joined others in contending the entire county would benefit economically if highways and other transportation systems remained open instead of being blocked by floodwater. Floods in the Puyallup Valley and other areas most susceptible to high river levels in the winter and spring could prevent the shipping of  products and keep people from their jobs, district advocates say.

Smelt has called potential  flooding in Pierce County “a huge concern.”

This is how the Nisqually River looked shortly after it destroyed part of the Sunshine Point campground in Mount Rainier National Park during flooding in 2006. The Nisqually is one of the rivers addressed in Pierce County’s proposals for managing flood risks. (Courtesy photo)

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