Crews will soon start work on an immense Green River levee project to give the Kent Valley flood protection like it’s never had before and to help restore salmon habitat to higher levels.
“We ought to be excited today,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, whose District 5 includes portions of Kent, on Aug. 22 at a groundbreaking ceremony along Russell Road for the Lower Russell Setback Levee. “This is a real positive story. It’s about flood protection, salmon habitat restoration, expanding recreational opportunities and it’s about getting things done at the local level.”
The estimated $52 million project will take about four years to complete as crews install a flood wall, create new fish habitat areas as well as relocate and reconstruct the city of Kent’s Van Doren’s Landing Park.
“Some of the flood levees in the Green River Valley are not in tip-top condition,” Upthegrove said. “If we do not make progress to get those levees repaired and accredited, we face a real risk in the future of homeowners and business owners having to pay costly flood insurance. Even more troubling, we potentially face the risk of development restrictions that would have the effect of throwing a wet blanket over South King County.”
City, county and state officials gathered to break ground on what will be the King County Flood Control District’s largest project yet. The 1.4-mile levee runs between South 212th Street and Veterans Drive (South 231st Way).
A property tax of about 16 cents per $1,0000 assessed value funds the King County Flood Control District, said County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who is chair of the Flood District and helps oversee the program along with the rest of the council. The property tax levy, approved by the county council in 2007 to raise funds for flood protection, brings in about $60 million per year, Dunn said.
The Flood District will cover most of the project costs. The state kicked in about $7 million and the city of Kent about $1 million. Kent city leaders see plenty of value in the project.
“We have the second largest industrial center on the West Coast,” Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said. “We have a lot to protect in the Valley and this is a huge piece of that.”
Crews will relocate the park to create a larger fish habitat and levee setback to hold water. The relocated park will have just 200 feet of river frontage compared to 1,200 feet at the current site. The size of the new park will be basically the same. New features will include a picnic shelter as well as a pickleball court for a sport growing in popularity.
“Van Doren’s Landing is one of our most loved and used parks,” Ralph said. “It’s going to be spectacular when it’s done.”
Another new feature near the park will be a carried-boat ramp for canoes and kayaks.
The project also will help salmon with larger habitats and channels.
“Green River is home to Chinook salmon that run through the river and are a threatened species,” Upthegrove said. “They are dying because the water is too warm because we have wiped out the habitat.”
The work continues the plan by Kent and King County to get the Green River levee system accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Crews have finished six levee repair projects in Kent over the last 10 years in an effort to get the system accredited, which would remove properties behind the levee from FEMA flood maps to reduce development restrictions and flood insurance requirements in the Kent Valley. Three levee projects remain to be completed.
The Lower Russell Levee Setback will be improved to a 500-year flood protection level.
“That’s the kind of storm that comes through once every 500 years,” Dunn said.
The Howard Hanson Dam, which opened in 1962, also provides flood protection to Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and Renton, but Army Corps officials say the dam could not hold enough water in its reservoir during a major rainstorm so stronger levees are needed. Farmers initially built dirt levees along the river to help protect farmland.
King County Water and Land Resources Division bought several private properties along the river in order to make room to rebuild the Lower Russell Levee, including Holiday Kennels, which operated at 22211 Russell Road since 1976 prior to closing in July 2018.
KOA (Kampgrounds of America), which sits along South 212th Street and Russell Road, will lose about 30 sites needed by the Flood Control District to expand the levee, so the city of Kent did a land swap with KOA to replace the lost sites. KOA has 189 sites at its Kent location, which opened in 1978.
Dunn said the Lower Russell Levee Setback and past and future levee projects are all part of a master plan among local officials.
“We really decided that we wanted to make this the most beautiful, environmentally friendly and safe urban river corridor anywhere in the United States of America,” Dunn said. “And we decided we needed to sit down and show trust to all of the other groups working with us on this.”