Citizens speak out against river buyout; county to proceed with grant application anyway

by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Clallam County, WA -May 21, 2002 – Citizens from the Kinkade Island area showed up at the May 21, 2002 meeting to testify against a planned buyout by the county of property there with grant money.  Clallam County plans to submit for a grant from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for the purpose of buying up private property and placing it into county ownership to get the people “out of harm’s way” according to DCD [Department of Community Development] director Bob Martin and County Commissioner Steve Tharinger.

Homeowner Steve Muller was the first to testify.  His home is barricaded at his own expense with sandbags along the waterway that was once Kinkade Creek, and has now turned into a large portion of the Dungeness River. He stated that he is opposed to the buyout proposals.  He said that the newspapers had printed “misinformation”, and that there were contradictions made in statements by Bob Martin. 

He talked about the sediment problem in the Dungeness River.  Dredging in some areas may be beneficial, but that’s not the cause of what’s going on in the river, he said.  He pointed to one of the dikes as the problem in restricting the river and creating a backflow, allowing a large amount of sediment to build up.  The result is a diversion of the river into Kinkade Creek, causing problems of flooding to the landowners there.

He has investigated the costs for a barrier to be erected to protect Kinkade Island.  He said the department of fisheries quoted approximately $8,000 to create a barrier, which reduces the risk of people on the island.  Removal of material in the middle of the river would have a dual purpose…it would create fish habitat, and removal of the gravel from the middle of the river would allow the river to flush itself.  Removal of the dike would remove flood hazards, he added.

Diane Hood, another river property owner, spoke about dredging the river having been successful in the past for flood prevention.  When river is allowed to meander, many fish eggs dry up.  Gravel bars also cause problems with erosion of the river.  She has spoken to the Army Corps of Engineers and West Construction, (who had done a $30,000 study), and was told that several rivers have been dredged successfully, including the Columbia, Chehalis, and the Cedar.  They cost-share with some federal funds involved.

Bob Martin started that if they put in a logjam and it blew out, it would be catastrophic, Hood stated.  I say that we would be exactly where we are now.  “At the last meeting, it was also stated that 80% of the owners were interested in selling,” she continued.  “I would like to know who they are.  I believe that a couple of owners on the island, and some that cannot get a permit are willing to sell.  On Cathy Lear’s [Lear is the county natural resources person and is also involved with the local land trust] chart of willing sellers, I and neighbors I knew who had no interest in selling were marked in as “willing sellers,” which I informed her was misrepresentation,” she said.

We need preventive measures now to protect against the next flood, to protect lives and prevent greater costs, she said.  “I find it very discriminatory that flood prevention work is being done immediately for some people, and the City of Sequim and the Highland Irrigation, to protect their interests.  What price is too high today to protect life and home?”

Steve Tharinger said it would cost $250,000 to do the work.  She said she got a quote of $20,000 from George Dickerson to block the channel with woody debris and from $30,000 to $50,000 to channelize the river by diverting the pile of rocks and diverting the channel back into the main river where it belongs.  “It seems a lot less expensive than buying out our homes.  Remember, 27 homeowners signed a petition saying this is what they want…

“ I would also like to know who made the decision not to close the channel.  Was it Bob Martin? Or was there a vote?  If so, who voted against and who in favor?”  I feel you’re using us as guinea pigs, she exclaimed.  She said she attended a meeting Friday night with Randy Johnson from the state fisheries on the river.  “It seems that every few years, you want to apply for more grants to do more studies to try something new,” when procedures being used elsewhere seem to work.

Jim Connel, who lost much of his land, and has not been allowed to move back into his home on the river, said he still has lots of questions.  “I really like my place,” he said.  “It’s home.”  He was forced to move out because of the flood danger, and to date, cannot move back in.  “I’ve lived there 20 years,” he said.  The only letters he gets are from Bob Martin’s office.  “I don’t know what’s going on….there’s got to be another way other than to buy property with funds you haven’t even acquired.”

Martin responded that he “certainly understands Mr. Connel’s concern.”  If we don’t get the grant, he said, people will continue to be in harm’s way, disregarding the ideas the river owners had put forth.  There isn’t money available to do these things,” he said, referring to keeping the property from flooding in the future. He agreed that placing large woody debris is to “sort of protect”, and that it’s a permissible action, but the county is not in a position to do it.  He wondered if it is “worth our while to apply for the funding.”

Commissioner Steve Tharinger said that certainly the property owners have the option of placing large woody debris to protect their homes.  They would have to get a hydraulic permit from the state fish and wildlife service, he said.  Whether it’s River’s End or Kinkade, we as commissioners have to be concerned down the road, he stated.  We’re “not preventing you from taking action.  We’re not going to do that because that wouldn’t be effective,” he said.  “We feel the long term for the risk is to purchase the property to get them out of harm’s way forever,” he added.  “I’m not convinced we ought to pursue it,” he said about the grant.  We have to ask what is the “best way to manage risk,” he said.  He explained that the $250,000 he quoted was to build a structure to withstand the formidable river, including years down the road.

Commissioner Mike Doherty gave the citizens a lecture about how they can’t expect the government to take care of their problems any more, “if people insist on living in a flood plain, they’re going to have to pay more of their own way, because the government is no longer subsidizing  as they did for years and years…subsidizing those who are living in a floodplain.  They’re not doing that anymore.”  Muller corrected Doherty that they do not live in a floodplain.  “It’s a matter of definition,” Doherty responded.  Muller continued that according to flood insurance requirements, his property is not rated in a floodplain. Doherty cut Muller off, telling him he could meet with Tharinger or Martin after the meeting.

Muller asked if they got an application from fisheries, would they have a problem getting an okay from the county.

Cathy Lear from the county natural resources department came forward and pointed out that the people couldn’t get permits with three endangered species – they would have to go through NMFS and National Fish & Wildlife.  Lear stated there were “other public comments” from people that are in favor of the buyout grant.  (None were present, and this writer will see about obtaining any written comments from those purported people.)  (On checking with the county commissioners' office later, however, we learned that there have been no other public testimony, especially any given in favor of the buyout. - Ed)

Lear produced a map, which it appeared the commissioners were viewing for the first time.  It purportedly set out which properties had owners who indicated a “willingness” to sell.  Hood and Muller asked if they could see the map; they were told they could see it later after the meeting, and that they could make further public comments at that time.  As Lear explained the map to the commissioners, Commissioner Mike Chapman called two of the three river owners up to the front to see it.

Diane asked again about who made the decision not to close the channel.  Martin said he didn’t understand.  Tharinger said the county wasn’t going to do that.  “It’s your choice,” he said, “if you want to close the channel…get a permit from fish & wildlife.”

Diane:  “You’re saying we can do it if we get permits.”  The buildup in the middle of the river would have to be dredged.  She talked about a neighbor who had dredged, and other owner who had done the same.  “It lasted a long time.”  Permits were issued in the last three years for dredging, she said.

Tharinger said the ESA has “raised the bar” about dredging.  The river’s velocity would be increased by dredging, he said.

“It would just be putting the river where it was before,” Diane responded.  “All counties need a hazard management plan by November 2003…I feel this is a really important issue, and I hope you’re working on this one.”

Tharinger talked about living on the river since 1983 – this year the river rose almost to the top of the dike.  “One of the issues I’ll be dealing with is they’re talking about moving that dike back…that river’s constricted…it scours out the habitat….if they move that facility back, I’ll need to move….I’ve lived there for 20 years,” he said.  “There are certain forces out there that you’ll want, need to realize, and base your decisions on,” he said.

Diane:  What we have here is more than a “meander”, she said.  If we let the river go wherever it wants to go, there has to be a point where you control it.  What if it heads for downtown Sequim, are you going to let it go?

Doherty called for a motion to close the hearing, and refer comments to the Department of Community Development.  They will be pursuing this further.

Chapman raised the question about whether this would be only for “willing sellers.”  The others nodded “yes”, which response did not get recorded.

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