MOUNT VERNON — Upriver residents are raising questions about Dike District 12’s proposed levee building project in Burlington, primarily concerned that raising levees downstream will worsen flooding upriver.
Representatives from Skagit County, the city of Burlington and Dike District 12 formed a panel to respond to questions in an information meeting Monday. It was organized following the annual Flood Awareness Week meeting Oct. 11 in Clear Lake, where more than 60 residents raised questions about the proposed project, drainage and other flood-related issues.
The proposal, which could raise Burlington’s levees as much as 4 feet in some places along a 1.5-mile stretch of the Skagit River, was sent back to the hearing examiner Sept. 24 with a 2-to-1 vote from the Skagit County commissioners, with Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt opposed. The proposal came before the commissioners following an appeal from the city of Sedro-Woolley.
Many questions came up in Monday’s meeting. Panelists referenced the county’s General Investigation study that’s underway with the Army Corps of Engineers, 100-year floods and the Environmental Impact Statement that was started in 1997.
Sedro-Woolley Mayor Mike Anderson asked whether the GI study took into account an increased need for sandbagging assistance in Sedro-Woolley during a flood. The answer was no.
Other audience members asked how the county and dike districts could protect one community and flood another, how the project might impact upriver communities, if Burlington’s Federal Emergency Management Agency certified levees would increase insurance rates upriver while it would reduce rates in Burlington, and whether the project had already started.
Panelists said the project in question has not started, but work on widening the levees landward is in motion and a stockpile of dirt is being built in Burlington for the proposed project, which could begin as early as 2015.
The impact on upriver communities is predicted to increase flood levels by about 4 inches, they said.
Kara Symonds, Skagit County Public Works project manager for the GI study, said any project such as Burlington’s that might transfer flood risks from one area to another will be evaluated under the study and mitigated as needed.
Skagit County flood historian Tom Sheahan also spoke at the meeting and said levee building in Burlington will not have a significant impact on Clear Lake or Sedro-Woolley.
“You’re getting mad because you’re getting water, but you’ve always had water,” he said.
Clear Lake and Sedro-Woolley residents disagree and several people walked out of the meeting upset. Many audience members felt they did not get clear answers to their questions and the consensus was that more work needs to be done.
“I feel it was a start, to maybe and hopefully have communication with different groups involved,” Clear Lake resident Deanna Ammons told the Skagit Valley Herald.
“The purpose of this meeting was not to resolve the many issues you have. The purpose of this meeting was to get answers to some of your questions,” public works interim director Dan Berentson said at the close of the meeting.
The panelists were not prepared to respond to all of the questions because the project is still in the early stages, with three alternatives still being studied, he said.
“It’s a process, but I’m glad (the county) had the meeting. It’s important to let the people in … have them voice their opinion,” Dike District 12 commissioner Eddie Tjeersdma said after the meeting.