It might be hard to think about winter rain during the dry weeks of August. But elected officials in Pierce County are keenly aware of what’s ahead and the potential for significant flood damage.
City councils from Lakewood, Dupont and Steilacoom held a special workshop Monday night to try to start again on a flood hazard management plan.
The Pierce County Public Works Department delivered a presentation describing why a flood plan is necessary and potential impacts to the county. There are serious economic impacts and regional transportation system risks if a major flood occurred, according to Brian Ziegler, project engineer.
Since the mid-1980s, there have been 17 declared disasters with significant damage, Ziegler said. A December 2007 storm caused Interstate 5 near Centralia in Lewis County to shut down for several days, an economic hit of about $4 million.
Pierce County has no flood control infrastructure. There are nearly 12,000 jobs located in flood-prone areas. Interstate 5, Highway 410 and the rail systems are at risk, according to presentation documents. About one quarter of Pierce County commuters —or 80,785—travel north outside of the county to Seattle. Seven pecent—or 18,565—represent county workers who live outside the county.
Now, government leaders are trying to form a flood control zoning district after an earlier attempt in the spring drew heavy criticism.
The city of Lakewood and other government bodies threatened legal action, saying the district did not legally form. Other municipalities like Gig Harbor, Bonney Lake and nearby University Place also opposed the district formation and its decision in December to impose a $5 per parcel annual fee on county parcels.
A new formation ordinance could be drafted by this fall, with possible County Council action on it by this winter, according to a district timeline.
The flood control zoning district is a special purpose taxing district. It provides funding for flood protection projects and programs. It also establishes ways to protect health and safety, regional economic centers, public and private properties and transportation corridors. Pierce County faces the threat of significant impacts, with potential flood related losses in excess of $725 million, according to presentation documents.
After the district's progress was reversed, a State Environmental Policy Act review was requested for a FCZD encompassing the entirety of Pierce County. In the meantime, councilmembers Monday night struggled to identify a suitable taxing model that fits a geographic area containing about 860,000 people in high and low levels of flooding areas.
Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary said there is a regional kinship county residents share, but the issue is proportionate taxing.
"It's counterintuitive that one person is paying the same and not nearly as affected," Neary said.
Dupont Councilman John Ehrenreich echoed his thoughts, saying a per parcel taxing structure is blatantly unfair.
"You're taxing a person the same rate and they're not receiving the same level of service," Ehrenreich said. "There has to be a sense of fairness."
The Public Works department contends that, although some areas have a higher risk for flooding, regional transportation is all-encompassing.
"It's almost guaranteed," Ziegler said about the next flood disaster. "That (Interstate 5) is not used by just people along the river."
If the Army Corps of Engineers conducts a comprehensive study of flood control solutions along the Puyallup, White and Carbon Rivers, the federal government could pick up 65 percent of the cost. Implementing a flood hazard management plan hinges on federal government assistance. Without it, the project would lose significant financial momentum and potentially collapse.
Eleven agencies and municipalities including Native American tribes would fund the six-year feasibility analysis. Possible opportunities for flood hazard management projects include:
- Stormwater design, storm pipes, installation and property acquisition
- Lake, pond and creek stormwater controls
- Ravine stabilization erosion control
- Water quality
- Sediment management
- Shoreline Master Program technical studies
But with the federal budget struggling already, and with the acceptance of the grant proposal about a year down the road councilmembers are wondering if the same offer federal support will be on the table.
Lakewood Mayor Douglas Richardson said he's concerned that they don't know how much the cost is going to be.
"Taxpayers just see the bill," he said. "There needs to be more discussion as to what the dollar amount will be."
Other options—if the federal dollars are approved—are to charge county residents no more than 10 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value. The final option discussed Monday was subzones along watersheds, which defines boundaries as separate flood districts, according to state law. County Councilman Dick Muri attended the meeting and said they need to come up with a comprehensive plan as soon as possible to get in the queue for federal funds and "pray we don't have the 100-year flood."
Here’s the projected timeline for forming a flood control zoning district:
Summer 2011: Outreach to cities and towns and the SEPA process.
Fall 2011: Draft new formation ordinance with findings from outreach.
Winter 2011: Possible County Council action on new formation ordinance.
Winter 2012: Boundary Review Board process and the district formation and appointment of advisory committee.
Spring 2012: Possible approval of comprehensive flood control plan and revenue and project options.
Summer 2012: Notification to County Assessor of possible revenue options.
Fall 2012: Board of Supervisors action on revenue and budget.
2013: Revenue collection and project implementation begins.