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Friday, November 19, 2010

Redlining the Valley….

A flood of property owners I’ve heard it said our species is on or near the top rung of the animal kingdom ladder. Given the barrage of political bombast and bluster of late, perhaps that position should be revisited. Where our property is concerned, however, we are just as territorial as the lowliest creature living under a rock. To declare boundaries, birds may sing; elk may bugle; canines “sprinkle”; spiders web; and fiddler crabs brandish an armored claw in their rivals’ faces. We humans, though, climb down off that ladder, survey, build fences—and attend public meetings.

I attended such a meeting at Park Place Middle School the Tuesday before last. FEMA in conjunction with Snohomish County hosted the gala and for nearly three hours two hundred or so “guests” learned about the new flood plain designations and their potential impact on property owneTake a shave, buddyrs and their holdings. Representing our Valley were Brett de Vries, Russell and Jason Dean,  and Matt Frohning. The Valley Ripple was in attendance, too, gathering up whatever news was fit to post.

Let me share some observations about the evening. I believe the presenters were not prepared to handle such a large turnout. Given the fact that properties and lands from Snohomish to the west and those as far east as Index were addressed at the meeting, the host officials should have anticipated considerable public interest. Such a large area involving three major river courses impacts a whole lot of folks. Maps with the updated flood hazard zones of towns situated in or near flood plains, starting with Snohomish and ending with Goldbar and Index, were posted on six easels for public view. Redesignation map legend (Note the legend for the new red line designations overlaid on the old “gold” flood plain. Also note there are old flood plain areas in our Valley that have NOT been red lined. All the years I’ve lived here I don’t believe I’ve seen floodwaters cover these old designations.) Redesignation, Our Valley

A concerned citizen could access his parcel map(s) at one of two computer stations. I arrived shortly before 6:00 p.m. By then two lines already stretched from the computer tables across the gym to the entrance. To access personal property information and wait for their map to be printed took a considerable amount of time. Both lines moved very slowly and some folks were growing impatient. (Later in the evening one of the printers failed, further trying citizens’ patience.) Take your turnWhat initially was meant to be a service actually turned into an aggravation for many. Frustration could have been kept at a minimum, it seems to me, had there been a specific station—say, one for each two designation maps; a property owner could line up at the map station that concerned him instead of waiting for the person before him to access his parcel which may have been in an entirely different area altogether.

The officials’ fifteen minute introduction was poorly presented. You couldn’t see the visuals because no one thought to dim the gym lights. Nor could you hear the presenter.Say Whaaat Besides, a third of the crowd was standing in line at the rear of the gym unwilling to lose their places to watch what they couldn’t see; to listen to what they couldn’t hear. I left in exasperation and went to look at the displays.

Far be it from me to be too critical, but refreshments would have soothed the ruffled tempers somewhat. A cookie or two? A slice of zucchini bread maybe? Coffee, at least, would have been a nice touch, don’t you think?

When these updated flood maps or DFIRMs (Digital Flood Insurance Maps) as the authorities acronymed them are designated official (FIRMed up) next summer, they will impact many of us in the pocketbook. I quote from my invitation: Changes in flood risk classification may affect your mortgage loan requirements. If your property was outside a flood hazard area on the old maps and is now inside a flood hazard area on the new DFIRMs, your mortgage holder may now require you to carry flood insurance.

And just what technology was used to arrive at these new designations? Take a look:


 New baselinesHuhhhhhh






pseudo hydrology

We Valley folks held our own little sidebar on this state of the art geo-hydraulic technology and scratched our heads. One of the sticking points was the term “updated.” According to the hydrologist-engineers this new information brings us from the 1920s into the Age of Enlightenment and is based on new measuring tools that include aerial photography and “earth density” measurements. Just how one could look down from an aircraft and tell that a flood plain was now three feet higher than before escaped us. And “earth density” quickly put us in mind of “intellectual density” (or water on the brain.) And here’s the interesting part: these “recent measurements” were taken in 1988, two years before our great 1990 Valley flood and eighteen years prior to its little sister in 2006. Seemed to us that ignoring those recent baselines was a big oversight.

I’m not sure about my Valley friends in attendance, but I came away with the distinct impression--not unique, I’m sure--for many who attend public meetings: it’s us against them. And  as the evening wore on, we all knew who the “them” was. I further noted that much of the crowd, many who, I’m sure, had flood stories of their own, seemed more afraid of “them” than potential floodwaters. There was the woman from Startup whose family of four generations had lived on property in the vicinity of the Wallace River watershed. Her fourth generation patriarch relative had never seen floodwaters on their properties in his ninety-four years, yet some of their land had been redesignated a flood hazard. The reclassification incensed her. She feared for her property value, was concerned about insurance issues. Then there was Jason Dean, embattled by FEMA and his bank—cause and effect—who want him to increase his insurance coverage and decrease his wallet contents. But the entire scenario was pretty much summed up by a woman whose children lived in the Fryelands development. She attended the meeting to find out if the new designations would impact them. (Kids were grandfathered into the old flood plain designation.) She turned to me and said, “They’re [Them] just trying to get more money out of us.” That statement resonated with me and confirmed I was among my brethren.

Us vs. Them: FEMA, the County, Insurance companies, banks…. (Yes, banks. When we were shopping for a home mortgage, one bank wanted to tack an extra quarter per cent onto our loan because our property was on a flood “fringe.”
Another bank got our business.) The Startup lady intended to appeal her redesignation. I’m sure she’s not the only one. FEMA and the County have allowed a ninety day window of time so those inclined can appeal the new designations.

Timeline for new designations

The County had set up another visual to explain how development (which City and County councils can control, but don’t) has affected the old flood plain. Look at the effect “fill” has on a flood plain, in our case raising its level three feet. But river beds fill, too, don’t they? Each flood season changes the hydraulics of a drainage system. Just glance over the rail of the Lewis Street Bridge the next time you cross it.

displacement by development 

I look down at those bulging gravel bars and think about a simple science experiment we did in elementary school where you took two quart jars, filled one with water, and the other one-third full of pebbles. When you poured water into the pebble jar, the jar flooded over; “displacement,” I think Miss Newton called it. New baselines? Why don’t those government engineers set up their transits and plumb bobs, and take their GPS readings from the summit (seriously, you would have to rope up to climb the bank) of that big gravel bar just off the Woods Creek confluence. There’s a NEW millennium base line for you. Paint some red stripes on that.

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  1. Terry - for the valleys populations sake and security eventually THEY will damn up the skykomish and the snoqualmie rivers high up in the hills - then THEY will outlaw wells and make US buy water from THEIR reservoirs (extra fee required for flouride and chlorine of course) and THEY will outlaw septics and drainfields and make US pay for sewer because the old dried up river beds below THEIR reservoirs all the way down to puget sound in everett will be turned into massive sewer drains (extra fee for THEIR tissue-culture pitri-dish lab cloned salmon of course) - im sure THEY will require reservoir insurance and sewage drainage insurance also - the good news is that it wont be a flood plain anymore and no more flood insurance and THEY will allow US a house on every 1/8th acre lot in all the valleys - (subdivision plans - house permits required of course for a fee - fingerprints - retinal scans - blood typing and first born must become one of THEM also) - maybe THEY will require US to buy high-density neighbor insurance too ? extra fee for no fence ? also everyone will have to buy food from costco or walmart or THEM too because no more farm land - maybe THEY will require US to buy food supply insurance too ? maybe WE will be required to pay a extra fee if we dont eat THEIR cloned salmon monday thru friday ? a bright future lies ahead for everyone in the valley - Im confident in THEM to make sure it will just get better for US not worse - we just have to trust THEM to take care of US all because THEY are looking out for OUR best interests like THEY always have - if and/or when they start trucking the City of Monroes sewage into the new digester plant at the old honor farm and the left over solids full of heavy-metals - birth control and chemicals gets spread on our valleys fields that will be for OUR/children/grandchildrens own good too - Matt

  2. Ah Ha! Just as I expected--it is THEM that's keeping me awake nights! TJ