Skagit County officials had a few more answers about a proposed
flood-control project, but many at a public meeting Wednesday
evening remained skeptical about the wisdom and even the need for
The topic of the meeting was the proposed Swinomish Diversion,
a channel that would take floodwater from the Skagit River near
Burlington and Mount Vernon to Padilla Bay. County officials
invited residents who live in the potential path of the channel to
The diversion channel is one of four alternatives officially
being studied to prevent a huge flood from inundating much of
western Skagit County.
The county commissioners favor the channel.
Other possibilities are widening the river channel from
Burlington to Skagit Bay, which officials say would be more
expensive; allowing up to five preselected areas to flood, which
the commissioners say is not acceptable, and doing nothing.
Chal Martin, the county’s director of public works, presented
a timeline for the project, which would go to a public vote around
April 2004. Construction would begin in 2006 or 2007 and last
three to five years.
The local cost taxpayers is estimated at $60 million, to be
paid over 20 years. Martin even presented a guess of how much it
would cost in property taxes — 62 cents per $1,000 valuation, or
$112 a year for a $180,000 home.
Many people questioned the specifics of the plan, such the
2,000-foot width of the channel, the alignment at the north end of
the river bend and whether to install a year-round channel for
salmon habitat. Those are all open for discussion during the next
two years, Martin said.
The public oversight process is beginning, so anyone who wants
to work on a committee can make their interest known now, said
Dave Brookings, the county’s public works administrator.
A few people said the
project wouldn’t be necessary if the county and the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers would resume dredging the river, something that
was last done in about 1961.
Resident Jack Harlow said in his 65 years in Skagit County,
he’s never seen a flood that required more than knee waders in
downtown Mount Vernon. He
said the river could be dredged and the tailings sold to farmers,
who would value it as fertile topsoil.
In response, Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt pointed to a chart that
showed no major floods since 1931, but eight major ones between
1815 and 1931.
The 1990 and 1995 floods were about 35-year floods, relatively
minor compared to the 100-year flood that would make create a
giant lake from Burlington to the Swinomish Channel.
Dredging the river would be an expensive proposition that would
lower the river a foot or two during a minor flood, but wouldn’t
make a dent in a major flood, Dahlstedt said.
The Corps of Engineers, which used to dredge to help boats get
up the river, is unwilling to resume dredging, said Don Dickson,
the county’s surface water manager.
“It never had any real impact on flood control, and they
maintain it never could,” he said.
Many home and business owners came to the meeting for answers
about relocation, but the Corps’ scheduled speaker couldn’t
make it due to a death in the family.
Dahlstedt said about 110 families and businesses would have to
be relocated if the project goes through.
Lorna Ellestad, who is
researching property acquisition for the county, said everybody
will be given one-on-one assistance, and the packages will include
the cost of relocation, not just the cost of the new house or
Dahlstedt said the county will even be willing to move houses
if that’s what people prefer.
Not everybody will be moveable, though, he acknowledged. A
180-acre crop farm that’s been in the family for generations
can’t be replaced with other land or any amount of money, he