Kent property owners learn about Green River flooding

Tom Crandall might give up on buying some property near the Green River in Auburn after what he found out at a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood insurance map meeting Monday night in Kent. "The property I'm looking at is in the floodplain," said Crandall, of Kent, as he pointed to a map he received at the meeting. "If it floods, the speculation is it would be devastated."

Ted Perkins

Ted Perkins

Tom Crandall might give up on buying some property near the Green River in Auburn after what he found out at a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood insurance map meeting Monday night in Kent.

“The property I’m looking at is in the floodplain,” said Crandall, of Kent, as he pointed to a map he received at the meeting. “If it floods, the speculation is it would be devastated.”

Property owners also must buy flood insurance to develop or redevelop land in a floodplain.

More than 100 people attended the meeting at the Kent Senior Activity Center to find out how new preliminary FEMA flood insurance maps could impact them. The maps are used as the primary regulatory tool under the National Flood Insurance Program and by the insurance industry to regulate floodplain development and rate flood insurance policies.

Kent city officials hope to remove much of the valley from the floodplain through an estimated $200 million project to upgrade and certify 12 miles of Green River levees over the next several years. When completed, the levees would better protect the city from flooding, keep flood insurance rates down and allow for more development and redevelopment in the Kent Valley that includes a large warehouse distribution center.

Right now, much of the Kent Valley is mapped in blue, which means it’s in the floodplain.

“The ultimate goal of levee certification and doing the repairs is to make the FEMA flood map to have no blue areas,” said Alex Murillo, a city environmental engineering supervisor, to the crowd. “If we are no longer in the floodplain, flood insurance is no longer required. We are not speaking ill of flood insurance. In fact, we recommend it. But there is a fundamental difference between having to get flood insurance versus purchasing it because you want to. That’s what we are pursuing with levee certification.”

The City Council has approved several contracts over the last few months to hire consultants to study, test and certify the levees are up to federal code. That means the levees need to protect the Kent Valley from the 1 percent annual chance flood event, also known as the 100-year flood, that FEMA uses to determine special flood hazard areas. The flood event is not a flood that happens once every 100 years but rather a flood event that has a 1 percent chance of occurring ever year.

FEMA officials will review the data as city officials submit it for seven levees and determine whether the levees meet federal standards to protect the area. If so, the agency will accredit the levee and revise flood maps to show the land as a moderate flood risk rather than a high-risk special flood hazard area.

“We also want make sure the levee will withstand the standard flood event,” Murillo said. “And development regulation is less restricted in an area that is not in a floodplain.”

Crandall said he thought FEMA and city officials should have talked more about the potential dangers of flooding if a heavy rainstorm hits and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to release a lot of water from behind the Howard Hanson Dam.

“They were not speaking about the worst case scenario,” Crandall said. “It could be pretty grim circumstances if anything drastic happens and if the levees give way. And there are only doing (fixing) the levees in sections. The federal government is leaving it up to Kent.”

Army corps officials were not at the meeting, which was to discuss flood maps issued by FEMA.

Ted Perkins, a FEMA regional engineer, said the maps were prepared assuming the Hanson Dam is working at full capacity.

“The maps won’t be affected by any fixes at the dam,” Perkins said.

Corps officials expect to have repairs to an abutment next to the dam finished by the end of 2012. A heavy rainstorm in the winter of 2009 damaged the abutment.

Property owners as well as cities can appeal the new flood maps between March 1 and June 1, Perkins said. FEMA will then review the appeals for about 60 days or more before issuing a Letter of Final Determination about the maps by August. Cities and King County will have six months to adopt the new maps into development regulations. But maps can be revised at anytime if changes are made to better protect property.

Perkins said any appeal has to be based on technical issues about the property as opposed to flooding trends.

“If the comment is going to be ‘I’ve been at this property 50 years and I’ve never seen flooding,’ that actually isn’t something we can do a lot with because a 1 percent chance flood might not have occurred on your property,” Perkins said. “It’s going to be more on a technical nature or something that is technically incorrect.”

James Heavey, who lives in unincorporated Kent near Covington, came to meeting because he had a technical issue with FEMA. He has property along the Little Soos Creek, which drains into the Big Soos Creek and then the Green River.

Heavey said he recently went to get a loan for his property and the bank told him that flood maps showed his land sat in a floodplain. But Heavey said he had a letter from the Army Corps from 1992 that stated the property was not in a floodplain.

“I talked to FEMA (Perkins) and he said he would look into it,” Heavey said. “They’ve been helpful and listened to my concern.”

For more information about property issues or appeals along the Green River, call Beth Tan of the city of Kent at 253-856-5552; the King County Department of Natural Resources floodplain division at 206-296-8001 or Ted Perkins, FEMA regional engineer at 425-487-4684.

To view the FEMA preliminary flood insurance rate maps and flood insurance study, go to www.kingcounty.gov/environment/waterandland/flooding.


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