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U.S. senator, local officials express hope, triumph over Hanson Dam funding

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she has only just begun to fight for federal money to repair the Howard Hanson Dam and protect the Green River Valley from flooding.

Murray and a parade of politicians held a media conference Friday along the shores of the Green River near Russell Road Park in Kent to discuss the $44 million the U.S. senator has helped secure for emergency funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to repair the Howard Hanson Dam.

"We were successful," Murray said of the efforts by herself as well as state, King County and local leaders. "The $44 million we worked to secure in the emergency spending bill will give the Army Corps the resources they need to keep the Green River Valley safe.

"And I can promise you this. We are not going to stop fighting to make sure the Army Corps gets the resources it needs to fix the Howard Hanson Dam once and for all in the long term."

The corps outlined its plans in March to extend a grout curtain as a temporary fix for the next several years, as engineers design and construct a permanent fix to stop a leak through a damaged abutment next to the dam.

The corps plans to add 650 feet in length to the grout curtain installed last fall to help protect the cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila from Green River flooding. The work could take as long as six months, Murray said.

The corps expects to have the design for a permanent fix - such as a concrete cutoff barrier - by the end of June in order to apply for funding from Congress in 2012 to start the project that could cost as much as $500 million and take several years to construct.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, Renton Mayor Denis Law, Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton and Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis joined Murray at the press conference.

"I'm here to tell you what she won't say that she worked a miracle," McDermott said. "This is a time in our history when there isn't a lot of money laying around in Washington, D.C. For somebody to come back with $44 million to fix a problem back at home is a minor miracle."

Col. Anthony Wright, commander of the Seattle district of the Army Corps, said in March that the expanded grout curtain would allow the corps to store more water in the Eagle Gorge reservoir behind the dam and could lower the odds of flooding in the Green River Valley to a 1 in 140 chance when the dam operates at full capacity.

The risk of flooding this winter sat at a 1 in 33 chance because the leak in the abutment reduced the storage capacity behind the dam. A lack of heavy rainstorms kept the dam and giant sandbags extended levy capacity from being tested.

"The corps with their fix last year, plus God, gave us a reprieve of one year," McDermott said. "It will be our fault if we don't get this done now. We've put the money there and the corps is going to do it."

The emergency funds still need to be approved by the full Senate and House and signed by President Obama. But Murray and McDermott each strongly indicated they expect the support to be there. The corps can start the repairs once the President signs the emergency spending bill into law. Murray hopes that can happen within the next month or so.

Cooke praised the work of Murray.

"I know the task is not over, but that $44 million is so critical," Cooke said. "You have carried a huge load to help relieve us of some of the anxiety so far."

As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray included the $44 million in the supplemental appropriations bill, which includes emergency funding for the current fiscal year.

Jonathan Spaulding, general manager of the Kent facility for Kvichak Marine Industries, spoke at the press conference and thanked Murray and the other politicians for their work to help preserve jobs in the Green River Valley through flood protection from the Hanson Dam. Kvichak builds boats in Kent for the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The $44 million is a big deal and obviously the best news for the people in the valley in a long, long time," Spaulding said. "Although I hesitate to speak for all of the businesses here, I know there are thousands of employees and many, many families that rely on you (Murray) directly and would like to extend their heartfelt thanks. Sen. Murray, we are proud to have you fighting for us every day."

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