MOUNT VERNON — A report detailing the logistics and potential impacts of options to deal with flood risk in the Skagit Valley was met with mixed reactions Thursday evening at a presentation that included public comment.
The draft feasibility report and Environmental Impact Statement are the latest results — released June 6 — of the Skagit River Flood Risk Management General Investigation Study, a more than 16-year process aimed at solving the problem of how to keep the river under control.
Of the four options considered by Skagit County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — one of them being no action at all — the corps has “tentatively” selected the Comprehensive Urban Levee Improvement Plan. More than half who spoke were generally in support of the plan.
More than 60 people packed into the community meeting room at Skagit Station to hear about the plan. But even those who criticized the “tentatively selected plan” were pleased to see some result of the many-year study.
“I started out very skeptical about the GI study,” said Jason Easton, a former Skagit County planning commissioner who is running for Skagit PUD commissioner. “But the results today are better than we had when we started.”
The plan under consideration — and open to public comment until July 21 — would come at a cost of up to $225.6 million, but would reduce the estimated cost from flood damages by about half, according to the report.
And while it would remove infrastructure in Burlington and Mount Vernon from the 250-year floodplain, many residents outside those areas felt that protection would come at a steep cost to them.
“Congratulations, Burlington, it looks like you’re the big winners,” said Silvia Matterend of Clear Lake, who worried that protecting Burlington would leave her friends and neighbors awash in river water. “Those of us who are outside Burlington, who aren’t friends with the corps, are really getting the short end of the stick.”
Several people spoke of concerns about the Samish River basin, saying that area would bear high flood risk under the plan and could destroy agricultural land there. Others worried about rising sea levels and how that would affect the tentative plan in years to come.
“I think we have to know how long our insurance plan is going to last,” said Bob Helton of Mount Vernon.
Dan Lefeber, the operations manager with Dike District 12, said he supported the plan but doesn’t want to see others forgotten as the project moves forward. No perfect solution exists, he said, but sharing the flood risk would help everyone deal with the river.
“We need to listen to each other,” Lefeber said. “No one deserves to be flim-flammed by this.”
Despite all the talk about dikes and levees downstream, a few people stood up to argue that the source of the river might merit consideration, as well.
“It seems like we’re trying to control the river from the wrong end,” said Ed Lipsey of Hamilton. “I think that working on both ends of this river is where we’re going to win — if we’re going to win at all.”
The corps and Skagit County are taking public comment on the report by email or mail, and a copy of the draft report and EIS is available online. Contact information is available on the draft report homepage as well.