Patty in the News

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., came to Kent Monday to let Green River Valley residents know the federal government is prepared to help protect them from flooding.

During her press conference along the banks of the Green River near Russell Road Park, Murray also emphasized that residents need to do everything they can to prepare for a flood. She said that message needs to be repeated over and over in order to reach every affected valley resident.

"The first and most important thing for everyone is that they purchase flood insurance," Murray said. "We want to make sure that if something happens, we don't have families here that lose everything that they have worked so hard for. I especially want renters to know that's important for them as well to get flood insurance."

Green River flooding could strike the cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila this winter because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not be able to store as much water as normal behind the Howard Hanson Dam because an abutment of the flood-control dam has been damaged.

The federal government built the rock-and earth-fill Hanson Dam in 1961 to control major flooding in the Green River Valley. The pool of water behind the dam is called the Eagle Gorge Reservoir.

"We all hope all of this preparation isn't necessary," Murray said. "But as this dam has protected us for a long time, we now know that there is a possibility of a flood here."

U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, joined Murray at the press conference.

"We need to make sure people stay focused on this," said Smith, whose 9th District includes the Kent Valley. "The rains come quickly and the problem comes quickly. We need to remind people that even if it doesn't look like it today, this is a significant challenge for us that we must prepare for now. We cannot wait until a day before the rain is supposed to come if we are going to minimize the danger that a flood could have on this area."

The Army Corps expects to finish construction of what it is calling a "grout curtain" by Nov. 1, to slow the water leaking through the damaged abutment at the dam, about 20 miles east of Kent. But the $8.9 million temporary fix will not clear the Corps to store as much water at the Eagle Gorge Reservoir behind the dam as previous years, leaving a higher risk for flooding.

Col. Anthony Wright, commander of the Seattle district of the Army Corps, has estimated there's a 1-in-3 chance of flooding without the grout curtain. He expects to know after the grout curtain work is completed just much that will help lessen the chance of flooding.

The problems with water storage behind the dam started when a 10-foot-wide depression formed on the embankment next to the dam after heavy rain in early January.

On Monday, the elected federal officials made it clear that residents of the Green River Valley are on the radar in Washington, D.C.

"We are working together, the Senate, the House members, the local community, the local officials and the Army Corps," Reichert said. "The public needs to know there are people paying attention and we are ready and want to help."

Reichert recalled growing up in Kent in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the valley flooded.

"It was not a pretty sight," Reichert said. "We could sit up on the East Hill of Kent and see the entire valley flooded - the houses and businesses. Today, of course, the housing has increased and there are warehouses storing billions of dollars worth of goods. The monetary impact could be close to $2 billion if this flood does occur."

County officials estimate as many as 26,000 people would need to be evacuated from parts of Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and Renton in a worst-case flood scenario.

"Families and businesses need to be prepared for an evacuation," Murray said. "Everyone should talk to their families and employees about what they should do should an incident occur."

Murray, Reichert and Smith helped King County and the local cities get $3.4 million last week from the Army Corps of Engineers for sandbags and other materials to fight the flood. Crews will place sandbags along the levees to increase their height by about 2 feet in order to handle a higher river flow.

"Congressman Smith, Reichert and I can assure you we are very, very focused on this and we are going to continue to fight to make sure this region is prepared for whatever comes our way," Murray said.

The Corps plans to construct a concrete cutoff wall as a permanent fix along the abutment within the next three to five years. The design for that project is expected to be completed by the summer or fall of 2010, Wright said at Monday's conference. He added the wall would take about two years to construct.

Murray affirmed that Congress would find money to fund the permanent fix once a design has been finished.

"This is one of the top priorities in the country," Murray said. "We expect that it would be funded. But we do not want the Corps to do this wrong. They've got to get their engineering and design work done correctly so then we can do our part to get the funding."

For information about flood insurance, go to www.floodsmart.gov.