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Constantine inspects Green River flood zone as King County Executive

For the first time since taking office, King County Executive Dow Constantine on Tuesday toured facilities and locations in the Green River Valley that might be adversely affected by flood waters from the federal Howard Hanson Dam.

Accompanied by key flood planning staff, the executive received briefings from emergency managers, regional partners and other elected officials at locations in and around the Green River Valley.

“My No. 1 concern as the new King County Executive is the safety of our residents, and protecting our local economy from natural disaster,” Constantine said. “We can make sure everyone is prepared through transparent communication and teamwork.”

Flood preparation has been a reality of daily life in the valley from Auburn to Tukwila since early 2009 when the abutment to the federal Howard Hanson Dam was damaged in a record-setting rain event last winter. As a result, the dam does not have full water storage capacity, and regional governments and nonprofit partners have collaborated to prepare residents and businesses in advance of a potential flood.

The seven locations Constantine visited Tuesday included:

• The Maleng Regional Justice Center

• Aukeen District Court

• Horseshoe Bend Levee

• Briscoe Levee

• The Renton Treatment Plant

• The Black River Pump Plant

• The Regional Emergency Communication and Coordination Center.

Flood preparation has been a regional effort which includes coordination with FEMA Region X, state government, county government, cities, and the King County Flood Control District. In addition to government collaboration, the Red Cross and the Humane Society of the United States are among the non-profit partners who are organizing a flood response to augment government efforts.

"Emergency preparedness is a team effort,” said Renton Mayor Denis Law. “We have made great strides in being better prepared for the potential flooding of the Green River by working together and focusing on what is best for our community.”

At the King County Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center in Renton, Executive Constantine met with the mayors of affected cities including Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, Renton Mayor Denis Law, and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.

Lewis said, "This is a great example of a regional partnership for the safety of our citizens."

“I so appreciate the willingness of King County and the Flood Control District to work with us in preventing and defending our community from possible flooding. It lays a strong foundation for cooperation in the future for the much needed repair and replacement of our levee system,” said Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke.

“The City of Tukwila is committed to protecting the lives of its citizens, businesses, critical infrastructure, public property and the livelihood of our residents from the effects of potential flooding along the Green and Duwamish rivers,” said Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton. “The City is doing everything we can to plan collaboratively for rapid response and recovery.”

Prevention and preparedness was the theme at the King County Regional Communication and Emergency Coordination Center as the American Red Cross and King County Emergency Management held a briefing about emergency preparedness, and offered tours of a self-contained kitchen that has been designed to produce up to 12,000 hot meals daily within heavily impacted disaster areas.

Designated as "Henry’s Kitchen”, the mobile kitchen can be used during a potential flood incident in the Green River Valley and is one of five mobile kitchens in the American Red Cross Disaster Services Program. Meals prepared in the unit can then be loaded onto emergency response vehicles to be distributed to disaster victims throughout the disaster area.

In October 2009, the King County Council passed an ordinance allotting $34.6 million dollars in emergency funding for flood preparation efforts. The funding followed a declaration of emergency declared by previous County Executive Kurt Triplett.

King County departments have made a cross-government effort to prepare for the potential impacts of flooding, including protecting King County owned and leased facilities from flood waters, and educating the public about potential threats from flooding.

Local governments have also been working closely with the King County Flood Control District, which was established in 2007 to provide a proactive, regional approach to flooding as well as funding to improve the county's nearly 500 aging flood protection facilities. The Flood District recently provided approximately $8.4 million for temporary infrastructure to increase the height of the Green River levees and to fund measures to ensure maximum operational capacity of the Black River Pump Station. The pump station provides critical pumping capacity to drain the lower Green River Valley during a flood.

In November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revised its estimates of flooding potential in the lower Green River Valley from 1 in 3 to 1 in 25 (and the odds are decreased to 1 in 33 if downstream levee heightening is considered) as a result of a grout curtain that was installed in the damaged dam abutment. Col. Anthony Wright from the Corps encouraged King County and affected cities to continue with their planning efforts. In a normal year with a fully functioning dam abutment, the odds of catastrophic flooding in the valley are 1 in 140.

“We cannot afford to be unprepared,” Constantine said. “Residents near the Green River Valley should get informed, get flood insurance, and have a personal disaster plan.”

For more information about regional preparation for flooding, building emergency kits, and making disaster plans, visit www.kingcounty.gov/floodplans.

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