The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

City Must Decide on Flood Feasibility Study

Two 'yays,' a 'nay,' and an 'undecided' vote leave project hanging


November 23, 2017

WAITSBURG – How much money is too much to spend when it comes to planning and preparing for a natural disaster? That's the question the Waitsburg City Council must be ready to decide at their December meeting.

Two years ago, Waitsburg approached the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) about completing a flood feasibility study for the city through a federal program that shares both the cost of the study (planning) and construction following the study. The program requires municipalities to pay half of the cost of the study while costs for construction, following the study, are split 65/35, with the city paying 35 percent.

ACE Chief Planner Rebecca Kalamasz was in attendance to answer questions and update the council on the planning phase of project, which is anticipated to take two to three years at a cost of $550,000. The city must agree to pay $225,000 of that cost for the project to get underway.

The Corp granted an extension to find funds, but is now in need of a decision. City Manager Randy Hinchliffe said he has reached out to various agencies and entities and has been able to secure approximately $175,000 in initial funding, with the expectation that the plan will take two to three years to complete.

The $175,000 includes a $25,000 annual city budget expenditure (for three years), work-in-kind, and funds from the flood control district, the county, and the Department of Ecology. The city would still be $50,000 shy of covering its portion of the cost share agreement.

Hinchliffe would continue to seek funds once the project is underway and Kalamasz said that she had recently learned of some additional work in kind, that may be available, as well.

In order to cut costs, the city significantly decreased the original scope of the study, which included all of Waitsburg, the Coppei and the Touchet River. Because the city has made levee improvements and replaced the arched Main Street Bridge, the proposed study will leave out the Coppei to focus on the Touchet River, from the Main Street Bridge to the grange.

"The focus is on the problems right in the town area that directly affect the infrastructure – Highway 12, the Highway 12 bridge and the downtown area. That's the area that affects the most infrastructure and has the most economic impact," Kalamasz said.

Upon completion of the study, the city will be presented with a variety of alternatives to determine the best cost-benefit results and all the compliance requirements will be met for moving into the construction phase of the project.

Hinchliffe said the current levee system is a 50-year levee, installed in the 1950s and 1960s and doesn't meet corps standards. The 1996 flood was a 75-year flood.

"That's kind of shocking since it was such a huge flood. The river was as wide as the valley in some sections. And that happens every 20-30 years," Kalamasz said.

Kalamasz pointed out that during the 1996 flood the town was essentially blocked off.

"If someone had a heart attack or a medical emergency you wouldn't have been able to get out nor would you have been able to get a helicopter in because this was not the only place hit. It's a serious situation," she said.

"Waitsburg is very interesting because this highway feeds the southeast corner of the state. That highway is a main corridor and the traffic than cannot get through has a huge economic impact," she added.

After lengthy council discussion, which touched on the fact that, even after the study, there would be no guarantees that the city could afford to make the suggested improvements, the council was undecided.

Council members Jim Romine and Kate Hockersmith voted to move forward with the project. Terry Jacoy voted nay and Kevin House said he was undecided.

Mayor Dunn said he would prefer that all council members were part of the decision, including KC Kuykendall, who was absent. He also appealed to the audience for input.

"What do you think, you live here?" he asked.

Dunn requested another month extension and Kalamasz agreed. She will return to the Dec. 20 council meeting where she will give a presentation on the project and some of the known flooding issues before the council decides on whether or not to enter into the cost-share agreement and begin the study.


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