The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work of the last two years has restored Howard Hanson Dam to the capacity it had before the storms of January 2009 left holes in the right support structure.
That task being done, attention is beginning to shift to the future of the protective sand bags and HESCO barriers set up along the Green River, including four miles of the bags through Auburn.
Residents might be understandably eager to get their old riverbanks back now that the immediate danger has abated, but city officials say they’ll have to put up with them until next May or June at the soonest, when the last of the storms is expected to blow through. The Corps of Engineers is unwilling to take a chance before that.
When the weather warms up, the City of Auburn and other jurisdictions will launch a coordinated takedown. No small task, considering that Kent alone has more than 16 miles of them.
But there’s a hitch — who’ll pick up the tab?
It’s a question very much on the minds of Auburn City officials.
“We are working with King County right now, because we’re not exactly sure who’s going to pay the $1.5 to $2 million it would cost to take those bags down,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.
When the bags were set up, the City of Auburn was under the threat of a flood emergency. All of the bags are either on King County-owned levees or atop private property where the county had an easement.
Under the contract with King County, Auburn agreed to set up the bags and then seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA.
But City officials say FEMA has since declared that because the City didn’t have a disaster, it doesn’t really qualify for reimbursement.
“We are unaware of who has the money to pay for the $1.5 to $2 million to take the bags down,” Lewis said. “We are talking to King County, which owns and maintains the levees … We understand King County’s point. The problem we have is that these are atop King County levees, and there have to be funds to take those bags down.”
Sarah Miller, director of emergency management for the City of Auburn, said the wall has held up well to the elements, as well as clueless human beings bent on destruction.
“We still have folks that go out and check in them regularly, and we do have folks that patch them up in places where they’ve been terribly damaged,” Miller said. “But the damage levels went way down. For a while we had a lot of damage to them, on a regular basis, but recently we haven’t had nearly as much.
“They can come down at any time; however, we’re not going to take them down in the middle of winter,” Miller said. “Typically in the winter, it’s muddy outside and it would be a big old, sloppy mess. But we have a sort of non-typical winter right now. We’re waiting for winter and spring to be over so that we’re into better weather.”