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May 2010

EDITORIAL

Hypocrites, Hidden Agendas, and Follow the Money

Because It’s Always About the $Money$

             HYPOCRITES:  Individuals or entities who professes beliefs and opinions that they do not hold in order to conceal their real feelings or motives.

            Having been involved with the flooding issue since 1975, I am continually amazed at how many hypocrites with hidden agendas are involved with this issue.  People and government agencies who publically say one thing but have ulterior motives that they don’t talk about.  In Skagit County, this is referred to locally as “The Way.”  Meaning, I guess, that is the way things are done here.  I have a long list of other descriptive words like “lying”, “deceitful”, “two-faced”, “talking out of both sides of your mouth at the same time”, “not telling the public everything they need to know in order to make an informed decision”, the list could be endless at this point.  What do I mean?  Let us take a look: 

WSDOT:  The Washington State Department of Transportation (“WSDOT”) has become a very active, mostly behind the scenes player in the Skagit County flood risk reduction issue.  Publically they state they have to protect Interstate 5 because of the horrific economic impacts shutting down the Interstate would have on commerce.  While shutting down the Interstate, as we have witnessed in Lewis County on at least two occasions, does in fact impact interstate commerce, WSDOT has other motivations for lobbying elected public officials, county and city staff, as well as members of the Skagit County Flood Control Advisory Committee behind the scenes on this issue.  WSDOT built Interstate 5 during the mid-1960s.  As early as 1979 in public hearings, I labeled I-5 as a great monument to engineering stupidity and have over the years, reiterated that position numerous times.  How many engineers does it take to realize that the floodwaters from the Skagit (and most major rivers in Washington State) flow from the east to the west, and if you build a landfill for a road in a north/south direction, you will influence those flood flows?  How many times was WSDOT warned by the Corps of Engineers that the freeway would be underwater if they built to their current elevations? 

The truth of the matter in Skagit County is that no floodwaters will flow over the interstate from the river north until they get to Gages Slough, adjacent to the Cascade Mall, thus forcing water depths and velocities to the north for a distance of over one mile.  This is one of the reasons that the flood elevations and velocities are so high at the Cascade Mall location.  (See Burlington e-mail, re: new flood heights 12/17/2009)  What makes this so sad is that is exactly the way WSDOT designed the freeway.  This despite the fact that as this web page shows, even doing cursory historical research on historical newspaper articles, would have shown WSDOT engineers that south of Burlington especially in the Gages Slough area is where the flood flows of the Skagit River historically went.  (See Historical Articles 11/16/1896  TSN, 12/3/09 Argus, 12/3/09 The Journal, 12/20/17 MVH, 12/16/21 B.J.

AC NOTE:  The above picture is of the latest FEMA FIS maps showing the area from the Skagit River north to the Cascade Mall.  The closer the contour lines the faster the velocity.

The truth of the matter is that WSDOT has major plans to widen Interstate 5 in Skagit County from south of Mt. Vernon north through Burlington to Bow Hill.  They will have to either build the Interstate above the 100-year flood level (like they should have done in the 1960’s) OR provide 100-year protection levees to protect the Interstate.  This makes WSDOT a major stakeholder in the Skagit River flood risk reduction issue.  The fact that millions of dollars could be saved on behalf of the Washington State taxpayer, and given the fact that because of the irresponsible design of Interstate 5 local residents and businesses have been impacted by increased flood depths and velocities in north Mt. Vernon and south Burlington, it would be in the best interest of WSDOT if they provided the funding for the Corps GI study.  The cost should not fall on the taxpayers of Skagit County to bail out the WSDOT and keep their expansion plans on track.  Questions that need to be answered would be how long would the freeway be underwater (1 day, 4 days, 12 hours) during the infamous 100-year event?  Would it be cheaper to provide more openings under the Interstate in order to keep the water off the freeway and allow the floodwaters to flow naturally to Padilla Bay as they want to do, indeed, as they used to do?

And while we are on the subject of WSDOT, they have been asked to produce their permits that show compliance with CFR 60.3.c.10 on at least 4 separate occasions with respect to the new intersections (Highway 20 on/off ramps) constructed in Burlington.  No permits have yet been produced.

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY: Last month we published a Letter to FEMA Region X  from a law firm on behalf of the Washington Association of Realtors (“WAR”), Skagit Island County Builders Association (“SCIBA”) other “Master Builders” associations as well as local developers of King, Snohomish and Skagit Counties (collectively “Developers”).  The letter expressed the Developers lack of enthusiasm for FEMA’s model ordinance for floodplain management in response to the ESA Section 7 Consultation Final Biological Opinion.  It doesn’t take a very long perusal of this web page to conclude that I am not a very big fan of FEMA Region X.  (See FEMA -- The Total Failure Package; DC Trip Experience; FEMA Regjon X: The Judas of the Pacific Northwest;   Heckofavajob FEMA - Where Is The Outrage?)  So what I’m about to say has nothing to do with defending FEMA from what the developers attorney had to say in their letter.  Instead it is what their letter did not say.

The Letter to FEMA Region X  is from the very element that causes the untold millions of dollars of damage that the taxpayer subsidizes through the NFIP.  Flooding is a natural occurrence.  Rivers flooding do not cause damages.  Building on the bottom of rivers in an irresponsible manner, placing a false sense of security in little mounds of dirt called levees, is what causes damages.  Failure to enforce local state and federal building regulations is what causes damages.  In Skagit County, as in other sections of the state & country, the occurrence of floods is well documented.  (See Historic Flood Flows of the Skagit River; Historical Floods Of The Skagit River).

A/C Note:  Downtown Mt. Vernon 1897 and Burlington 1921 after the floods.  “History is a relentless master.  It has no present, only the past rushing into the future.  To try to hold fast is to be swept aside."  (Source:  John F. Kennedy, 35th President)

Yet the development community continues to build their subdivisions, shopping malls, grocery stores, banks and other buildings on the bottom of our rivers and then expects the general public to pay for flood control/risk reduction projects to protect them or through the NFIP to bail them out when their flood control projects fail.  All the while, as is evident by their Letter to FEMA Region X , they continue to attack any kind of regulations that would restrict their developments.  Why would that be?  Simple answer, restrictive regulations cost developers money.  The law firm who submitted the letter on behalf of the developers also has represented Haggen’s grocery store (See Haggen, Inc.  comment letter on Burlington DEIS signed by the same lawyer as the FEMA letter), and Puget Sound Energy.  After all, the more people who can move into the floodplain the more people there are to buy groceries and use electricity.  So restrictions on development in the floodplain, the primary purpose of the NFIP, are simply put, not good for making developers money and interfere with their plan to privatize the profits while socializing the losses.

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

 MT. VERNON AND BURLINGTON: Some have noted that this editorial page has been silent on Mt. Vernon’s floodwall.  The floodwall concept is a huge improvement over the filing of sandbags and hoping enough people show up to get the job done before the flood crest.  To be honest, so long as the City pays for the floodwall and doesn’t expect all the taxpayers in Skagit County to buy it for them, thus subsidizing downtown developers, I don’t have a problem with its construction, although if I lived on Fir Island I might feel differently.  What I do have a problem with is Mt. Vernon encouraging more developers to move in behind the wall and allow them to build flat on the ground and not purchase flood insurance.  A cost savings to the developers and increased revenue to the City, however, once again at the expense of the taxpayers. 

Isn’t Mt. Vernon creating the same situation as New Orleans?  Some individuals have publically stated, “New Orleans got what they deserved by building a community 12 feet below sea level.”  Downtown Mt. Vernon is approximately 12 feet below the river flood levels experienced in 1990 and 1995.  What will happen when the floodwall fails and the bathtub fills up?  Why should all taxpayers have to subsidize the success of the developers in the City of Mt. Vernon?  When the area in the future does flood again, and flood again it will, why should the taxpayers have to pay for the additional damages that will be experienced by allowing such an irresponsible land use practice as building flat on the ground in the bottom of an old channel of the Skagit River which is where downtown Mt. Vernon is located?  Could/should the City fathers be charged with reckless endangerment of the businesses and residents of downtown Mt. Vernon?

Burlington and its dike district can already take credit for increasing the frequency and severity of floodwaters to all its neighbors both upstream and downstream.  (See Graphic Summary of Increases in 1990 Flood Levels Due to Levee System)  Their plan to certify a portion of the levee system to 100 year flood levels seems doomed to failure (See  Series of E-mails between Burlington & FEMA re: Certifying Levee Segments )  Also unless Burlington comes to the table with clean hands regarding the alleged “setbacks” of the levee system in the three bridge corridor it should not receive any public support for its projects nor should anyone else with hidden agendas.  Are they going to move the levee back and remove the rip rap or are they going to build a second levee, in violation of NFIP regulations, specifically 44 CFR 60.3(c)(10), and leave the existing levee there? 

One other thing while we are on the subject of Burlington.  Is Burlington going to make public the permits it has issued to Dike 12 for storing all the fill material for the new levee in the floodway?  Is the Skagit County Planning Department going to make public the permits issued for additional fill on and adjacent to the levees?  This is of course assuming that permits were issued.  If the SCFCZD Advisory Committee had a Land Use committee that actually met once in awhile that might be something they would want to see copies of since the local officials seem to know where the floodway is, (See E-mail from Burlington Planning Director to FEMA, RE: ESA Issues) although their definition is only partially correct (See FEMA letter 2/1/84)(See also River Issues/).  Perhaps the Land Use committee might also want to see permits for all the other fill being placed in the floodway by the Dike Districts.  Like the landfill shown in the below pictures that were taken on Sunday, May 23, 2010.  However, since the representatives on the Land Use committee are sometimes the same people in charge of issuing permits they will probably never meet thus never having to address the tough issues. 

 

 

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

FEMA REGION X:  As previously stated I have lost all faith in FEMA to accomplish anything.  If the true purpose of the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”), established by Congress in 1968, aims to reduce flood risk through management of flood plains, improve hazard data and risk assessment, and make affordable flood insurance widely available in communities that take steps to mitigate risk (Source:  http://www.govexec.com 4/26/2010), then FEMA Region X has been a complete failure.  It is nothing but a paper tiger.  Rattles sabers but runs when any political heat is put on it.  The main reason FEMA has stood by its junk science hydrology on the Skagit is that there has been no political heat put on them to change, although the historical and technical evidence is overwhelming that the hydrology is wrong (See River Issues/).  There are many hypotheses about why they are ignoring the obvious, from academia bruised egos to an admission of government agencies using 90 year-old faulty data first “published” by USGS in 1929 (See Selected pages of USGS WSP 612 ) and used by the Corps since 1925 and used by Seattle City Light and the Corps to compute storage requirements behind Ross Dam in 1953, (See 8/14/1953 Corps document.), eight years before the Stewart Report was published (See 1961 Stewart-Bodhaine Report WSP 1527- Retyped), to they know that the locals cannot win in a court appeal of their decision.   But perhaps the most obvious reason is purely financial.  As has been editorialized before if downtown Mt. Vernon and Burlington are removed from the 100-year flood plain, FEMA Region X loses its most productive cash cow.

One of the reasons perhaps that FEMA doesn’t enforce anything they have done in Burlington is that Burlington can best be described as a “money-maker” or a “cash cow” for FEMA.  As of February 14, 2007 “. . .1,291 Burlington residents pay $709,524 a year in flood insurance premiums (average of $550 per policyholder).  In contrast, Burlington residents have only made 26 claims in the 29 years FEMA has kept records, for a total in claims payments of $44,904 (average of $1,727 per claim); further, many of those claims were found to be outside of the City, in unincorporated Skagit County (they were mis-coded in the insurance processing).  (Source:  Department of Ecology e-mail dated 2/14/2007.)  Follow the money because it’s always about the money. 

(See  Heckofavajob FEMA - Where Is The Outrage?, June 2009)

FEMA Region X has failed in every aspect of their jobs.  From determining the correct hydrology, to issuing faulty flood insurance rate maps, to enforcing the floodway requirements it imposed on Skagit County/Mt. Vernon/Burlington/Dike Districts, to enforcing the requirements of 44 CFR 60.3(c)(10).  The end result has been the building of 3 billion dollars worth of infrastructure and private structures that is now at risk and it will be the American taxpayer who ultimately picks up the bill for their gross incompetence.  Even when FEMA is shown pictures of construction of a McMansion located in Gages Slough, the old channel of the Skagit River, it turns a blind eye and refuses to revisit the Community Assistance Visit (“CAV”) for Skagit County.  After the below picture was shown to FEMA, a FEMA representative showed up in Skagit County and stated, “Skagit County has one of the highest ratings in the nation for avoiding property damage due to flooding.  FEMA awards point credits towards classification ratings for activities in communities participating over and above standard practice.  . . . Skagit County has been a participant in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System since 1997.  As of October 2008, the County achieved a ’4’ classification, which reduces flood insurance premiums in the 100-year floodplain by a total of 30%.  This is an additional 5% reduction from the County’s previous Class ’5’ rating.”  (See http://skagit.granicus.com/MinutesViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=453)  Meaning, not only do we at FEMA Region X ignore local land use abuse, we reward it by reducing flood insurance rates.  They give a completely new meaning to the word hypocrite.  We don’t really need any new regulations, we just need the ones currently on the books to be enforced.

 

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

LOCAL OFFICIALS:  Local government has not really done much better than the federal or state government.  Besides the obvious local land use abuse policies there are other reasons why local government is failing.  One of the reasons stated that local cities and towns could not help pay for the GI Study was that they need their money for an appeal of the FEMA FIS hydrology.  As stated so many times previously, yes the hydrology is wrong but the government knows the locals cannot win an appeal.  There is no judge in this country that is going to substitute their opinion for that of the government scientist no matter how inexact that science is.    So at what point in time do the taxpayers quit making the consultants rich and the local bureaucrats quit drinking the hairy kool-aid in hopes of winning a fight they cannot win?

At a recent meeting of the SCFCZD Advisory Committee, while discussing the importance of flood risk reduction projects, a local bureaucrat stated:

"We all make choices and I'm going to be just like everyone else.  I'll be selfish and say that I do think this is important so that we can move forward.  In the long run, it's going to reduce the cost of doing business in Skagit County.  It's going to reduce flood damages that we as taxpayers pay every year, it's going to reduce our threat to public safety where there's schools in the floodplain or what it is but it's money spent up front." 

What the bureaucrat did not say was that the bureaucrat owns a home adjacent to the levee system in the floodplain.  What they did not say was that their property would become more valuable and maybe even not have to pay flood insurance anymore.  What they did not say was that reducing the risk could mean reducing the amount they pay every year to the dike districts.  But then maybe they did say all that, after all, they did say “I’ll be selfish”. 

The bureaucrat’s statements were dovetailed by a local elected mayor who stated, “It'll generate more taxes.”  Finally, someone tells the truth.  “Truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it." (Source:  Emily Dickerson, American Poet)

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

ENVIRONMENTAL/TRIBAL COMMUNITY:  Even the environmental community is not without hypocritical blame.  Publically some have stated that we must learn to live with the river and its ecological system and quit working against it.  Something that I have stated and have deeply supported many times over the years, however those same organizations and communities who are in bed with the Corps of Engineers, BP Oil and PSE are the same ones that unilaterally opposed additional flood control storage behind the Upper and Lower Baker dams thus recklessly endangering the lives and property of the downstream property owners.  Storage is a flood risk reduction measure that would have benefitted all the people in Skagit County and by lowering the flood risk been very beneficial to the environment.  Floods, while admittedly are part of the natural process, depending on what time of year they happen, destroy redds by increased velocity and siltation.  Restoration measures are good for fish, bugs, birds and other wildlife but to what end?  While pollution and loss of habitat are contributing factors to fish reduction, according to scientific studies, the most contributory reason for the decline in fish stocks is over fishing.  It is possible that by the year 2050 the major fish stocks in our oceans will be gone and fish will no more be a source of food for so many millions.  Isn’t it time that the environmental/Tribal community quit prostituting themselves and using the threats of law suits to extort money for their pet projects and deal with the reality that what is needed to restore the salmon runs is to QUIT EATING THEM.  Take the nets out of the rivers.  Prohibit all nets within 3 miles of the mouth of any river.  Prohibit nets from 500 feet from any shoreline.  Shut down entire river systems for at least two life cycles of the species and let Mother Nature do what She does best.  (See Historical Record of Fish Related Issues (1897-1969))  Of course, that wouldn’t be in the best “economic” interest of the environmental/Tribal communities.

$ Follow the money, because it’s always about the money. $

 LETS DO IT OURSELVES!!  LETS DO IT NOW!!  LETS DO IT WITH VOTER APPROVAL!!

May your fields be ripe and budding and your rivers full and flooding (because its the only time people pay attention).

 The Angry Citizen

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