Sandbag removal in Kent signals Green River Valley to open for recreation again

Crews begin Tuesday to remove giant sandbags from along the Green River Trail in Kent. - SARAH KEHOE, Kent Reporter
Crews begin Tuesday to remove giant sandbags from along the Green River Trail in Kent.
— image credit: SARAH KEHOE, Kent Reporter

Sandbags set up across the Green River Valley three years ago to combat flooding threats are finally getting removed.

Community and business leaders and trail enthusiasts joined officials from the King County Flood Control District, King County and the city of Kent to celebrate the start of the sandbag removal Tuesday.

“Removal of the sandbags means life is moving forward in the valley,” said King County Flood Control District Chair Julia Patterson, also a member of the County Council. “Bicyclists can once again enjoy full access to the trail, people who live here in the Green River Valley can return to their normal lives, and businesses in the valley can get back to doing what they do best -- keeping our regional economy strong.”

AGR Contracting, Inc. was awarded the sandbag removal contract by the city of Kent to remove the nearly 20,000 bags within city limits. AGR is using heavy equipment to load the bags into dump trucks for removal. The bags are expected to be removed by the end of September.

The approximately 3-foot high sandbags were installed to provide extra flood protection to the cities of Kent, Auburn, and Tukwila after the 2009 announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that severe flooding was possible due to a damaged Howard Hanson Dam embankment. The Corps announced last fall that they are once again operating the dam at full capacity.

“The sandbags did their job during a time of increased risk of flooding,” said Flood Control District Executive Committee Chair Reagan Dunn. “It’s time, however, for the eyesores to be removed and to restore the Green River environment to its previous state. Removal will allow greater public access to our beloved regional trail, and let King County continue to properly operate and maintain the levees along the river.”

The first bags are being removed between South 200th Street and South 212th Street as well as a portion of the Horseshoe Bend Levee in south Kent in order to make way for other levee improvements currently underway. The contractor will then continue to remove bags in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

“The Kent community has been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Dennis Higgins, president of the Kent City Council. “Kent residents are thrilled to return to normalcy.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency has just recognized King County’s flood risk reduction program as one of the top two county programs in the nation.

“We worked together successfully as a region to prepare for the increased threat of flooding, and now together we can celebrate the sandbag removal that signifies life getting back to normal,” Constantine said. “Today (Tuesday) marks the end of a crisis but not the end of our collaboration."

The sandbags are filled with low-grade fill, which is not marketable as premium sand. It isn’t suitable for sanding streets, for use in gardens, sandboxes or constructing sidewalks and patios.

AGR Contracting, Inc. plans to deliver the fill material to Cedar Grove Composting, which will evaluate its best use. Plastic sand barriers that are in usable condition will be cleaned and returned to the Corps, which loaned the barriers to the cities. The metal of any damaged barriers will be recycled and the linings disposed.

“Now that the dam is operating at full capacity, our priority is to remove the sandbags as quickly as possible,” Higgins said. “We are all anxious to have our trail back, but we ask for patience as it will take some time to assess if the sandbags caused damage to the trail and to make any necessary repairs.”

The cost for removal of the sandbags is shared between the Flood Control District and the cities, with the District paying approximately $4.4 million and the cities paying approximately $1.4 million collectively. Kent’s portion is nearly $224,000.

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