Pierce County Council creates county-wide flood district

The Pierce County Council voted April 3, to create a county-wide flood district designed to protect the regional economy from a catastrophic loss.

But not everyone is pleased about the decision.

“We’re still not very happy with having a flood control district that includes the hill, especially Bonney Lake,” Mayor Neil Johnson said Friday.

By a 5-2 vote, the County Council approved the creation of a Flood Control Zone District, a special-purpose government designed to fund flood-protection projects and programs in Pierce County.

District 1 representative Dan Roach voted against the measure.

“Bottom line is that it’s an unnecessary step,” Roach said, calling it a “new level of government” and a “new taxing authority.”

Many levees and other flood protection facilities were built in the 1920s or earlier and must be strengthened, something the funding from the district should take care of.

“We saw what happened in Lewis County in 2009 when Interstate 5 was underwater for days. As the second-largest county in the state, we have an even greater exposure to damages,” said Council Chair Joyce McDonald said in a press release announcing the district. “Everyone in Pierce County would be affected by the closure of I-5 or Highways 167 and 410 because that would halt the flow of goods and people in our region.”

An analysis released in October 2010 concluded the county could face economic losses of more than $725 million, including damages to homes, businesses, wastewater treatment plants, roads and rails. Using authority granted under state law, the new zone aims to prevent those types of massive losses by funding such needs as levee repairs and improvements, property purchases and more.

“Pierce County has experienced catastrophic floods throughout its history,” County Executive Pat McCarthy said in the press release. “After years of talk, it’s time to create a comprehensive approach to addressing the problems and looming failures along our 92 miles of aging flood protection facilities.”

But Johnson said his city sees very little advantage from the zone and he does not believe plateau residents should be charged the same amount as valley residents, who will see the most benefit.

The district’s funding is expected to come from a levy of no more than 10 cents per $1,000 assessed value, which amounts to $20 a year on a $200,000 home. The money cannot be used for anything other than flood-related actions.

McDonald and McCarthy have worked together for more than a year to address concerns cited by a few cities and towns. A key addition to the plan is an “opportunity fund” that will provide grants for important stormwater projects in each community.

Johnson said the city’s goal was to make sure the Flood Control Zone Advisory Board, a 15-member panel, would include representation from hill cities to make sure that money came back.

Roach said he filed an amendment that would have required 25 percent of the board to be made up of residents in hill cities—something proposed and supported by Bonney Lake—but the amendment failed.