King County officials dismayed at FEMA

FEMA denies $31 million reimbursement for levee and other costs associated with the Howard Hanson Dam flood threat

King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Flood Control District Chair Julia Patterson today expressed disappointment at a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deny reimbursement for work done to protect the people of the Green River Valley from the flood threat posed by the federal Howard Hanson Dam. FEMA’s denial was the second and final stop in the federal appeal process.

“While we categorically disagree with FEMA’s determination from both a regulatory and pragmatic point of view, we are also aware that this ruling is the final step in the agency’s appeal process,” said Executive Constantine and County Council Chair Larry Gossett in a letter to the mayors of Kent, Auburn, Renton, and Tukwila.

“This disappointing outcome comes despite the mountain of evidence painstakingly assembled over the past two years to support our appeal, and the lengths so many of us went to – individually and collaboratively – to make our case to FEMA,” wrote Constantine and Gossett. “The appeal effort was emblematic of an unprecedented and powerful partnership, assembled the moment the trouble with the dam first became apparent, to secure the lives and livelihoods of the people we serve.”

The Executive thanked the state’s Congressional delegation for its support of the appeal to FEMA. No immediate impact will be seen on the County budget, as prospective reimbursement was not counted upon for revenue. Had FEMA provided reimbursement, the County General Fund would have had about $2 million more per year over the next eight years to meet critical public safety and human services priorities.

Patterson said the denial of reimbursement is a blow to the Flood Control District’s capital program for fixing aging and substandard levees.

“The Howard Hanson Dam is a federally-owned and operated facility and I am disappointed that the federal government denied our request to reimburse our local governments,” said Patterson. “Reimbursement money would have allowed the Flood District to restore local funds that were taken away from other critical levee projects to pay for the giant sandbags needed to protect the Green River Valley. This denial means we will have to delay priority levee projects needed to protect people, farms, and structures from flooding.”

King County and the King County Flood Control District spent more than $24 million on work to shore up levees, relocate critical services, and fortify buildings after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a dramatically elevated risk of catastrophic flooding, following a storm in January of 2009 that weakened the integrity of the Howard Hanson Dam in southeast King County. The cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila spent millions more.

The threat set off a massive collaborative effort involving King County, Green River Valley city leaders, local partners, state emergency officials and the Army Corps to install protective measures and inform the residents and businesses in the valley on flood insurance and safety.


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