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FEMA denies $31 million reimbursement to King County for Green River levee work to combat flooding
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied King County's request for a $31 million reimbursement for levee and other costs associated with the Howard Hanson Dam flood threat along the Green River.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Flood Control District Chairwoman Julia Patterson issued a media release Friday to express their disappointment about the denial of funds. FEMA’s denial was the second and final stop in the federal appeal process.
“While we categorically disagree with FEMA’s determination from both a regulatory and pragmatic point of view, we are also aware that this ruling is the final step in the agency’s appeal process,” said Constantine and County Council Chairman Larry Gossett in a letter to the mayors of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila.
“This disappointing outcome comes despite the mountain of evidence painstakingly assembled over the past two years to support our appeal, and the lengths so many of us went to – individually and collaboratively – to make our case to FEMA,” wrote Constantine and Gossett. “The appeal effort was emblematic of an unprecedented and powerful partnership, assembled the moment the trouble with the dam first became apparent, to secure the lives and livelihoods of the people we serve.”
Constantine thanked the state’s Congressional delegation for its support of the appeal to FEMA. No immediate impact will be seen on the county budget, as prospective reimbursement was not counted upon for revenue. Had FEMA provided reimbursement, the county general fund would have had about $2 million more per year over the next eight years to meet critical public safety and human services priorities.
Patterson said the denial of reimbursement is a blow to the Flood Control District’s capital program for fixing aging and substandard levees.
“The Howard Hanson Dam is a federally owned and operated facility and I am disappointed that the federal government denied our request to reimburse our local governments,” said Patterson. “Reimbursement money would have allowed the Flood District to restore local funds that were taken away from other critical levee projects to pay for the giant sandbags needed to protect the Green River Valley. This denial means we will have to delay priority levee projects needed to protect people, farms and structures from flooding.”
The Flood Control District also will delay levee projects to help pay for the removal this summer of the giant sandbags placed along the levees three years ago.
King County and the King County Flood Control District spent more than $24 million on work to shore up levees, relocate critical services, and fortify buildings after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a dramatically elevated risk of catastrophic flooding, following a storm in January of 2009 that weakened the integrity of the Howard Hanson Dam in southeast King County. The cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila spent millions more.
The threat set off a massive collaborative effort involving King County, Green River Valley city leaders, local partners, state emergency officials and the Army Corps to install protective measures and inform the residents and businesses in the valley on flood insurance and safety.
The Corps received $44 million from the federal government to repair Hanson Dam over the past two years and announced last fall that a higher likelihood of flooding no longer existed in the cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila.