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Legislature, governor approve bill to protect King County Flood District; Green River levee projects

A levee along the Green River near the Riverbend Golf Course in Kent. - CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter
A levee along the Green River near the Riverbend Golf Course in Kent.
— image credit: CHARLES CORTES, Kent Reporter

King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Flood Control District Chair Julia Patterson Thursday joined city mayors from Kent, Tukwila, Auburn and Renton to thank the Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire for passage of state bill 1969, which protects critical funding for flood risk reduction efforts.

Gov. Gregoire signed the bill Thursday in a ceremony in Olympia.

“We worked together as a region to preserve this important tool that will protect people and businesses throughout King County from floods,” said Constantine in a King County media release. “I am pleased to see the overwhelming support in the Legislature for this bill, and I thank Gov. Gregoire for signing it today.”

Patterson, a County Councilwoman whose District 5 includes portions of Kent, Des Moines, SeaTac, Federal Way, Tukwila and Renton, also praised approval of the bill.

“I am extremely grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for their support of EHB 1969,” Patterson said. “Their actions preserve $72 million in critical funding that allows the Flood Control District to continue maintaining and improving flood protection facilities, safeguarding our residents, their property, and the state’s economy. Recent flooding, levee breaches, and mandatory evacuations along the Mississippi River underscore the importance of proactive actions to reduce flood risks to people and property.”

Falling housing prices and a state cap on property taxes were threatening the Flood Control District’s ability to collect taxes for much-needed flood risk reduction projects.

The bill exempts the Flood Control District from the property rate tax cap by protecting up to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for countywide flood districts (King County’s district currently collects 11 cents per $1,000).

As a result, the Flood Control District will be able to continue to collect revenue in 2012-13 and won’t have to stop or delay necessary flood-protection projects. It will also enable the Flood Control District to leverage approximately $10-15 million in additional federal funds.

Mayors from many cities made trips to Olympia to testify on behalf of the bill, including Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke.

“Retaining the Flood Control District as a resource is critical for the repair of the Green River levees." Cooke said. "Those levees protect the nation’s fourth-largest warehouse distribution center in the United States; an area that’s responsible for one-eighth of the entire Gross Domestic Product of the State of Washington. This bill is a win-win for residents, businesses and the state.”

The bill allows for funding for Green River levee projects, including an upgrade to the Boeing Levee, the Hawley Road Levee, and the Reddington Levee. The levee work will occur on the 19-mile stretch of the Green River system that flows through South King County.

“This legislation helps protect the economic vitality of our region and its passage is very important news for all the businesses in Renton,” said Renton Mayor Denis Law. “The District’s work reduces the risk of future flooding in the Green River Valley.”

Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton joined fellow mayors to credit the work by state leaders.

"A well-functioning levee system is key to the economic health of our region and that is why I am so pleased that the State Legislature and Gov. Gregoire have approved legislation protecting the ability of the King County Flood Control District to continue to receive property tax in this economy," Haggerton said.

The loss of revenue would have meant:

• The delay of 45 capital projects deemed critical to the Flood Control District’s 10-year plan. Of those 45 projects, 15 are projects that are currently underway and would have to be shelved for multiple years.

• Delays to several levee projects on the Cedar River that would put at risk critical infrastructure, including SR 169 and the regional fiber optic cable that carries financial transactions.

• Delays to levee projects in the lower Green River Valley that would mean that the region’s economic engine would continue to be protected by levees that are only marginally suited to present-day flood management needs.

• Loss of funding for home buyouts and elevations that are currently at-risk and frequently flooded. Citizens would continue to be at risk in known problem areas in Snoqulamie, Carnation, and along the Cedar River.

• Loss of Opportunity Fund money in the amount of $7.2 million for the 40 local governments in King County that currently receive support for critical flood and storm water needs.

• Loss of the Flood Control District’s ability to successfully leverage external grants. The district anticipated a loss of at least $10-12 million within the two-year period.

The King County Flood Control District is a special purpose government created to provide funding and policy oversight for flood protection projects and programs in King County.

The Flood Control District’s Board is composed of the members of the King County Council. The Water and Land Resources Division of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks develops and implements the approved flood protection projects and programs. Information is available at http://www.kingcountyfloodcontrol.org/.

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