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Kent, county tackle levee-repair work

Work crews were out in force Tuesday doing repair work to the flood-control levee near the Riverbend Golf Course in Kent. A great deal more work needs to be done on levees throughout the Green River Valley, officials say, in order to ensure the flood safety of the area. - Charles Cortes/ Reporter
Work crews were out in force Tuesday doing repair work to the flood-control levee near the Riverbend Golf Course in Kent. A great deal more work needs to be done on levees throughout the Green River Valley, officials say, in order to ensure the flood safety of the area.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/ Reporter

The Green River Valley needs the river to run through it, not over it.

In an effort to reduce flooding in the valley, which takes in the City of Kent, nearly 10,000 truckloads of rock will be hauled in over the next few months to repair nearly a mile of levees along the Green River in Kent between Frager Road and the Riverbend Golf Course.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, started the repair work three weeks ago on the Kent Shops-Narita levees. The project is slated to be finished by mid-September.

“The challenge is this is only one section of the river,” said Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke in an interview after a media briefing organized by the county Tuesday along Frager Road, just west of the levee work. “There are huge sections left undone, but you have to start somewhere.”

Because the City of Kent owns the Riverbend Golf Course that parallels the Kent Shops-Natita levees, city officials were able to work with King County and the Army Corps to get the estimated $8.9 million project started quickly. Federal and county funds will cover the cost of the project.

This year, the county started to assess a flood-control district property tax of 10 cents per $1,000 assessed value ($40 per year for a $400,000 home). The tax will raise about $35 million per year over the next 10 years to help the county fund flood-control projects as well as try to receive matching funds from the federal government. The county will receive $15 million in federal funds for 2008.

King County has about 119 miles of levees along the Green, Tolt, Skykomish, Cedar, Raging, White and Snoqualmie rivers. Projects are ranked by the county’s Water and Land Resources Division to help determine which repairs are done first. As many as 55 projects are scheduled for this year.

County flood-management projects slated to begin this summer in Auburn, Renton and Maple Valley include:

• Repair of more than one-third of a mile of levees on the Green River to protect homes in Auburn.

• Setting back levees on both banks of the Cedar River east of Renton to restore the floodplain.

• Purchasing the 20-acre Cedar Grove Mobile Home Park, which sits on a dangerous floodplain along the Cedar River in Maple Valley.

The repairs to the Green River levees along the golf course in Kent received high priority because of major damage done to them during the heavy rain and flooding in November 2006.

Cracks showed up along the paved Green River Trail that runs atop the levees. That trail has been closed by city officials during construction between West Meeker Street and James Street. Bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians must detour near the golf course to Frager Road until the newly paved trail reopens in the fall.

“The repair will not alleviate the risk, but it’s a critical first step,” said County Council Chairwoman Julia Patterson, of SeaTac, whose District 5 includes most of Kent, at Tuesday’s media conference. “It will repair the weakest link of the chain of flood protection.”

The levee repairs will help protect thousands of homes, businesses and major highways needed by commuters and truckers that serve the warehouses in Kent and Renton.

“It will protect State Highway 167 and the West Valley Highway,” said Patterson, who also functions as supervisor of the county’s Flood Control Zone District, overseen by the nine County Councilmembers. “These corridors are the economic lifeline of the state. The busiest warehouse district in the state is in this valley.”

An estimated 15,000 truckloads of dirt are being removed from the river banks to be replaced by rocks. Construction crews are working 16 hours per day, six days a week to set back the levee to hold more water. The rocks will be used to stabilize the slope of the bank, said Bill Graney, project manager for the Army Corps.

“In conjunction with Howard Hanson Dam and the levees, we’ll protect the valley,” Graney said.

The Army Corps built Howard Hanson Dam along the Green River, northeast of Enumclaw, in the early 1960s to help prevent flooding in the Green River Valley.

Most of the levees along the river were built with dirt in the 1950s or 1960s by farmers to protect their crops, said Mark Isaacson, director of the county’s Water and Land Resources Division, at the media conference.

“They were built to the standard at the time, but they start to age,” Isaacson said. “It was not a situation where we thought they would break apart. But we wanted to get ahead and address it before it does that.”

The flood in November 2006 damaged the levees and helped spur a plan by county officials to repair the levees. The damage to levees by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans also played a role.

“We don’t want to have King County repeat the natural disasters of the Mississippi River in New Orleans,” said County Councilman Reagan Dunn, of Maple Valley, whose District 9 includes part of east Kent, at the press conference.

The levee repair work in Kent will cause Riverbend Golf Course to close a nine-hole section of the course after Labor Day in September. The course will be back to an 18-hole expanse by March of 2009. Riverbend’s par-3 course will remain open throughout construction.

After Labor Day, city officials will start work to reconfigure the 18-hole course. As many as six holes (holes No. 4 through No. 9) along the river will be relocated because of the expanded levees.

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