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Kent City Council unanimously approves levee flood wall repair plan
A controversial Green River levee flood wall repair that just a week earlier had split the Kent City Council ended up with unanimous approval Monday of the city staff's proposal.
The council voted 6-0 at a special meeting to adopt a resolution backing the flood wall to repair the Briscoe-Desimone levee as well as work with King County officials on a long-term flood protection plan for the entire Green River system, even if it means eventual removal of that wall.
City officials will send the resolution to the King County Flood Control District Board of Supervisors (the nine members of the King County Council). That board will vote in the next couple of weeks on whether to pick Kent's $17 million levee repair plan over a county proposal that would cost an estimated $63 million to more than $416 million.
The King County Flood District Executive Committee voted 3-1 Feb. 7 in Seattle to recommend to the full nine-member flood district board to choose the Kent proposal to build a flood wall along the 2.5-mile levee between South 200th Street and South 180th Street.
"I feel that I now have the information needed to vote and support this short-term solution to a much longer term problem," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson, who ignited the controversy among the council when she testified at the flood district meeting that the council hadn't signed off on the city staff's plan.
That testimony last week by Albertson led Larry Gossett, a member of the flood district executive committee, to vote against the Kent proposal because he didn't know if the plan really represented "Kent's vision."
That uncertainty of the council's position on the levee repair led Council President Dennis Higgins to call a special meeting to vote on a resolution.
"I will be calling him (Gossett) first thing in the morning to let him know what's in this resolution and personally convey to him that Kent has settled on a vision," Albertson said prior to the unanimous vote. "Thank you for working through this process and now we have something that we can send forward."
The council met for 3 1/2 hours before it reached the agreement, hearing testimony from city staff, the flood district and others. Albertson and Councilwoman Jamie Perry didn't decide to support the resolution until amendments were added about the city working with the county on a longer-term vision for the Green River Valley.
"We have a long standing history of working well with King County, working well with our partners and I really don't want to jeopardize that good working relationship," Perry said. "I think it's really important that we clarify that we have a short-term problem we want to fix but we're also willing to be part of a longer-term solution that can have multiple objectives not just to get this levee accredited."
The project is part of a larger effort by Kent to have the entire levee system within city limits accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to remove properties behind the levee from FEMA flood maps to reduce development restrictions as well as flood insurance costs and requirements in the Kent Valley.
"We need to take a bigger look at this and this one reach of levee might not be the greatest place to stake a claim and start a battle over the overall flood protection levels," Perry said. "But we are committing to have that conversation in the future and that is the only reason I'm supporting this resolution."
Prior to the vote, several business people testified that they wanted the council to support the flood wall plan to reduce insurance rates and avoid having to move because of a county proposal that would buy up properties and remove buildings in order to have a large setback levee along the river.
"If I'm forced to leave my location because my building is demolished I probably won't relocate in the Kent Valley," said Greg Larkin, owner of Larkin Precision, a metal grinding business that sits near the Briscoe levee. "I've been here for 20 years and there's no reason for me to stay here with all of this going on with the flooding."
City staff has said that the levee repair needs to be done as soon as possible and that the project needs to be approved in order to get the $7 million state grant awarded by the Legislature last year.
The city has spent about $713,000 (from its storm water utility fund) over the last two years on three engineering consultant companies (Boston-based GEI Consultants, Inc., GeoEngineers, Inc., of Seattle and Northwest Hydraulics, of Tukwila) in connection with Briscoe levee repairs. GEI and GeoEngineers each recommended a steel sheet pile flood wall be constructed along the levee to improve flood protection. The city estimates the project could be completed this year if work starts in June. About 4,000 feet of the levee would be repaired in four segments.
The council last week split 3-3 on whether to award an additional $736,544 consulting contract to GEI to work on the Briscoe levee if the flood district board approves the Kent plan. Mayor Suzette Cooke cast the deciding vote to approve the contract, which would be paid for out of the state grant.
Albertson, Perry and Deborah Ranniger voted against the contract. Les Thomas missed the Feb. 5 meeting because of illness but returned for the special meeting. Ranniger had an excused absence from Monday's meeting.