Auburn no stranger to alarm bells; preparing for flood threat

The City of Auburn began planning for potential flooding of the Green River last January shortly after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first raised alarm bells about the compromised holding capacity of the Howard Hanson Dam.

Driven by concerns about the vulnerability of the Auburn Food Bank to possible flooding this fall and winter

Driven by concerns about the vulnerability of the Auburn Food Bank to possible flooding this fall and winter

The City of Auburn began planning for potential flooding of the Green River last January shortly after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first raised alarm bells about the compromised holding capacity of the Howard Hanson Dam.

“We’ve been very, very busy,” said Sarah Miller, emergency preparedness manager for the City of Auburn.

“We have gotten approval to do more than we thought we would back in June or July,” said Mayor Pete Lewis. “We are doing everything that the law, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and King County allow us to do, and more. But there’s nothing certain about nature. That’s the biggest problem.”

City staff have hosted more than 20 community informational meetings attended by about 7,000 people. They have distributed 8,500 copies of different versions of the city’s flood map, including the latest showing the sewer and storm impacts.

In January, staff went door to door to every home they could find in the potential flood areas north of 22nd Street Northeast and immediately bordering the Green River and Mill Creek. In September, staff visited areas they had missed the first time around.

The city’s Web site has recorded more than 27,000 hits on its Howard Hanson Dam page and it has created a frequently-asked-questions blog.

Miller said the city is reaching out with its Twitter and Facebook pages and has recorded more than 1,000 subscribers to its”>emergency alert e-mail. It has met not only with homeowners but with businesses and specialized groups, including HAM radio operators and people with emergency training. The idea is to let them know what resources the city needs, find out what those groups have to offer and explain how they can help.

Last month the city opened community sandbagging stations at Les Gove Park and at Fulmer Field three days a week. The Army Corps of Engineers has provided the city with 100,000 sandbags. The city buys the sand then hands out sandbags and shovels so people can load the stuff and take it away.

“We’re doling the sandbags out by the thousands,” Miller said.

To protect life and property against potential flooding of the Green River this fall and winter, the City of Auburn began setting up a bulwark of giant sandbags and barriers atop the levees along the west side of the river between Eighth Street Northeast and the River Mobile Home Park.

Supersacks – giant sandbags filled with 3,500-to-4,000 pounds of sand – will do most of the work primarily on the Dykstra levee, Lone’s Addition levee and the Reddington levee adjacent to the River Mobile Home Park.

Public Works Director Dennis Dowdy said the city’s authorization from the King County Flood Control District calls for it to build the levees up to contain 13,900 cubic feet of water each second with a safety factor of three feet of free space on top.

“That is almost 2,000 feet above its designed capacity,” said Dowdy.

The bags will be enfolded in thick black plastic to protect them from ultraviolet rays and lengthen their lifespan to the five years the city expects them to be there, or until the corps completes the barrier wall at Howard Hanson dam.

At the end of the Reddington levee, containment will cut west across school district property and open fields to the I Street corridor, where it will turn north.

Across the field west of the Reddington levee, the city will use the HESCO barriers, accordion-pleated cages filled with rock, and building berms as we go north, said Miller.

“North to 272nd, there is no current levee on either side of the river,” said Dowdy. “King County had one scheduled for next year, but it may have to be put off. The city will build a setback levee over to I Street and north to the theater property and tie into 277th Street. We estimate the flood wall at the theater property will be about 12 feet high.”

Dowdy said South 277th to Auburn Way North will probably become a dike in a flood event.

Dowdy said that the city will probably have to dam the railroad ditches to keep the flows from coming back over them and into the city.

“How confident are we in the containment?” Miller asked. “That’s a good question. We are more confident than we would be without it; however, we are not confident enough to let people in there once the river fills the bank at the 13,000 to 13,900 cfs (cubic feet per second) level. If that happens, we will still evacuate people, because we don’t want somebody in there if one of those secondary containment measures fails.”

Mayor Lewis’ concern remains the levees and the hard season they’re about to endure.

“If we receive more than one flood, even if it is minor, it can wear away at a temporary levee,” Lewis said. “My biggest concern might not be the first, but the second or third. It may be only a matter of time before water eats through the temporary barriers.”

Emergency Information

City of Auburn Emergency Management

340 E. Main St., Suite 201,

PHONE: 253-876-1925

WEBSITE: (sign up for emergency alerts here)

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