The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

Waitsburg Agrees to Flood Study

City will partner with Army Corp of Engineers to evaluate and mitigate flood risks


January 4, 2018

WAITSBURG – All eyes were on the Touchet River and Coppei Creek last week as warm weather and heavy rains resulted in flood advisories throughout the Touchet Valley. While there was no significant flooding this go-round, it is only a matter of time before the valley sees another high water event, like the Flood of 1996.

That knowledge is what prompted the Waitsburg City Council to commit to a flood feasibility study with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) at their Dec. 20 regular meeting. Council member Terry Jacoy cast the lone dissenting vote against entering into the agreement which makes the city responsible for funding $225,000 of the $550,000 study.

The city approached the ACE in 2014, seeking help with flood risk assessment. In the fall of 2015 the federal government determined there was a need and Waitsburg was eligible for a cost-share program with the ACE.

Army Corp Chief Planner Rebecca Kalamasz gave a presentation to the council, explaining that the city experiences a significant high water event every 20-30 years. Kalamasz cited the Flood of 1964 and the Flood of 1996, which was just slightly less.

Kalamasz said that in 1996, more than 65% of the town was inundated with water. Sediment deposition destroyed homes and damaged public infrastructure, with damage exceeding $13 million.

In addition, she said that blocked highways had a commercial impact on transportation with trucks being routed around the area at an additional potential loss of $2 to $18 million. She also mentioned the life and safety impacts of fighting the flood, being isolated from critical services and the health hazards associated with water and sediment.

In order to cut costs, the scope of the study, which originally included all of Waitsburg, the Coppei and the Touchet River, was reduced to focus on the upstream portion of the Touchet River, from Main Street to the Grange.

"That is the area with the biggest impact on economics, infrastructure, and the highway," Kalamasz said.

She said that downstream improvements such as replacement of the Main Street Bridge, removal of houses, and changes at the wastewater treatment plant should improve performance and also leave less infrastructure in need of protection.

Since Waitsburg became eligible for the program, City Manager Randy Hinchliffe has been in the pursuit of funding. He told the council he has currently secured approximately $175,000 toward the city's portion of the study costs, should the council approve the study.

Those funds include $20,000 from the Flood Control District, $20,000 in county funds ($5,000 annually for four years), a possible $25,000 grant from the Dept. of Ecology, approximately $35,000 work-in-kind from the city, and appropriations of $25,000 from the city budget annually for three years.

The city is still $50,000 short of covering its portion of the study, but Hinchliffe said he felt confident the city could secure that funding over the next three years.

While the study can be completed in two years, the city asked that it be stretched out over three years to better fit within the budget.

Kalamasz said she has been made aware of more possibilities the city may have to provide additional work-in-kind as well.

Once the study, which includes all necessary permitting, is completed, the city will be presented with the best alternatives, based on expert opinion and economic analysis, to choose from. The city is free to determine whether or not to move forward with construction, and to choose (or decline) the option that best fits its budget.

The construction phase of the program, should the city choose to move forward following the study, is split 65/35, with the city paying 35 percent of the costs.

City Attorney Jared Hawkins had reviewed the agreement and said he found the terms acceptable.

Council member Terry Jacoy expressed concern at the $550,000 price tag "just for a study" when there was no guarantee the city would be able to afford the improvement options once they were presented.

Council member KC Kuykendall said the cost was not unreasonable and said that the city had just cost-shared $550,000 to update a Shoreline Master Plan with Waitsburg, Walla Walla and Prescott.

Council member Jim Romine motioned to proceed with the cost-share agreement, Kuykendall seconded, and all council members but Jacoy voted in agreement.


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