King County declares emergency for potential flooding

King County Executive Kurt Triplett signed a proclamation of emergency Thursday in order to speed up preparation for an increase risk of flooding over the next several winters in the Green River Valley due to damage to the Howard Hanson Dam.

The action, according to a county media release, will waive county contracting requirements and help support a request for federal reimbursement for pre-emptive measures after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned of potential major flooding for the next three to five years while the dam is repaired.

The Corps is making temporary repairs to the right abutment at the dam, 36 miles upstream of Auburn, but has warned that it is unlikely the dam will be able to hold back flood-level waters during a major storm.

County officials estimate as many as 26,000 people would be evacuated from parts of Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and Renton in a worst case flood scenario.

"In a region known for rainfall, our strategy cannot be to hope it doesn't rain," Triplett said in the media release. "By making this pre-emptive declaration of emergency, we are being prudent and taking steps now to protect the people, businesses and public buildings in the potential flood impact area"

Proclamations of emergency are usually made after damage has occurred and are part of the process for reimbursement for part of the costs to local governments from FEMA. The declaration allows the county to waive certain contracting requirements and move quickly to purchase and deploy equipment and other resources.

"Making the choices about how to prepare the county is difficult," said Councilmember Julia Patterson who represents Kent and a large part of the possible flood inundation area. "However, the risk of not taking every action possible is even greater. You never know what Mother Nature is going to give you and we have to prepare for the worst."

"Waiting until the storm comes is not an option," said King County Council Chair Dow Constantine. "King County must take immediate, decisive action to shore up the levees along the Green River, and to finalize plans to keep people safe during a flood emergency."

The warnings of potential devastating flooding has prompted the county to shore up levees in the Green River Valley and make plans for protecting county buildings and or moving some county services out of the flood plain.

"We have to ensure that government services like the courts and elections can continue operating even if we're faced with major flooding before the Corps of Engineers can finish permanent repairs on the dam abutment," Triplett said.

King County is also making improvements to the aging Green River levee system, which was not built to handle the amount of water that could be in the river while the Howard Hanson Dam cannot operate at full capacity.

The Metropolitan King County Council unanimously voted last week to grant Triplett the authority to proclaim an emergency in the Green River Valley before a disaster hits.

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