MOUNT VERNON — Downtown Mount Vernon is set to be removed from the 100-year floodplain in October, about a decade after work on a city flood protection project began.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified the city in a letter Thursday that it was taking the action, which will allow businesses and residences in the area to save money on flood protection and insurance.
“I think the city is at a turning point now,” Mayor Jill Boudreau said.
FEMA’s decision represents a step toward the goals laid out in the city’s Downtown Master Plan, and for the future of the area.
The plan envisions new development along the waterfront, replacing parking lots with restaurants, hotels and apartments, and bringing much-needed investment to the region, Boudreau said.
“It makes those catalyst, anchor projects feel more real,” she said.
Public Works Director Esco Bell, who joined the department in 2005, said he’s been working toward this moment since his first day on the job.
“This has been something that the community has needed for decades,” he said.
FEMA’s floodplain map revision was made thanks to the city’s 1.7-mile, $30 million flood wall project, which has been built over the past 10 years along the Skagit River, from Lions Park to the city’s water treatment plant.
While a small section of the wall at the north end of town is still under construction, Bell said the city completed enough of the project to satisfy FEMA in early 2018.
Ellen Gamson, executive director of the Mount Vernon Downtown Association, said she expects FEMA’s decision will free up money for investment and improvement in downtown.
“One of the huge cost savings for business owners will be that flood insurance premium,” she said. “That’s really fantastic news.”
Rebecca Lowell, senior planner with the city, said FEMA’s decision will also save business owners money if they choose to invest in improvements to their buildings, by removing flood protection standards.
She said she expects to see more investment in the downtown.
“Now these businesses don’t have to comply with this requirement once this is official,” she said.
The revision will include the site of the former Alf Christianson Seed Co. plant, which is set for redevelopment in the next several years, Lowell said.
Appeals of FEMA’s decision will be accepted until late September, according to the letter from FEMA.
If no valid appeal is received, the map revision will go into effect Oct. 25.
“I’m excited, but I’m cautiously excited,” Boudreau said. “Come this fall, that’s the time to really celebrate.”