Vital county services to continue operating despite any flooding from federal Howard Hanson Dam
StoryThe Metropolitan King County Council today authorized the emergency funds needed to relocate County services and protect critical County facilities in the Green River Valley, in advance of the threat of flooding from the storm-damaged, federal Howard Hanson Dam.
“It is imperative that the County take the necessary actions to protect our employees and the facilities in which they work in the Green River Valley,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee that reviewed the legislation. “Today’s actions help us prepare to take the steps we need to ensure continued operation of vital county services.”
“Our job is to protect citizen access to their government and the services that only we can provide,” Said Councilmember Jane Hague.
“In the event of a major flood, it is crucial that King County be able to guarantee basic services, such as wastewater treatment, to its citizens,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine. “These measures will also allow King County to maintain its key justice system functions during an emergency.”
The $34.6 million appropriation funds work already underway to, among other things:
• negotiate for jail space to relocate inmates from the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC),
• negotiate for leases to relocate Superior Court, District Court, the Prosecuting Attorney, the Public Defender, and Judicial Administration from the MRJC,
• hire a contractor to build a wall of concrete blocks and earthen berms around the MRJC, and provide flood protection around other critical, valuable County facilities,
• negotiate for leased space for Aukeen District Court and affected public health facilities,
• lease a temporary animal shelter for five months,
• lease generators capable of producing 16 megawatts of electricity to continue pumping treated sewage out of the South Treatment Plant in the event of a power failure,
• erect a water barrier around the South Treatment Plant, and
• move the Elections Office out of the Earlington Building to the King County Airport Operations Center.
“It would be irresponsible if King County was not prepared,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “The County has already acted to protect the November election, but if other critical services are not protected, flooding in the Green River Valley could leave our employees at the Regional Justice Center unable to provide basic services to citizens, and raw sewage headed to our wastewater treatment facility could back up and pollute Lake Washington. This funding provides reassurance that County services, services that are critical to protecting people, property, and democracy, will continue in the event of a flood.”
“This emergency funding to protect our wastewater facility could save millions in property damage” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “Preserving county services and protecting the wastewater facilities from damage are key elements of responsible planning and response to the flood threat.”
“To ensure the health and safety of King County residents, we must make these investments to prepare for potential flooding,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made it clear that it may take the federal government 5 years to permanently fix the dam. Today’s decisive action is an important step in addressing a multi-year problem.”
“If flood waters strike there will be limited time to react to keep our facilities out of harm's way,” said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “This decision assures that the County’s vital services such as wastewater treatment will continue their primary responsibility of serving the homes and business in the Green River Valley.”
The ordinance provides funds to lease a temporary King County animal shelter for five months, but prohibits the use of the funds for purchase of an animal services facility. The County Executive has already announced that animals will be relocated from the animal shelter in Kent and the facility closed by November 1 in anticipation of the flood threat, and proposed the transition of both animal control and sheltering services to a new entity by June 30, 2010.
“As an advocate for being prepared, I appreciate this thoughtful plan for moving the animals in our Kent shelter out of harm’s way due to the threat of severe flooding this winter,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “Because the warning period for flooding could be very short, we need to have a flexible and cost-effective plan for transferring our court operations as well as the animal shelter to temporary locations. I am confident that this framework will provide for the continuity of operations that still delivers responsive customer service in our court system and compassionate care for the animals in our custody.”
Of the emergency funds authorized today, $27.2 million will come from the sale of bond anticipation notes and $7.4 million from the County’s Wastewater Treatment construction fund. The legislation requires the Executive to report back to the Council every two weeks on how the money is being spent. Money that is not used during this flood season will be returned to the General Fund and the wastewater fund to be held in reserve in the event of another Green River flood threat next year.
The Council doubled the amount of funds placed into a flood contingency fund from $4.5 million to nearly $10 million by reducing other areas of the Executive’s budget request.
The Council on August 31 gave the County Executive proactive authority to declare a state of emergency in advance of actual flooding, which he did on Sept. 10.
“Relocating vital services out of the Howard Hanson Dam flood zone will ensure that the business of the county will continue uninterrupted in the event of a flood,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “This is an interim precaution we must take while urging the federal government to speed up permanent repairs to the dam.”
Agencies that are moved out of their facilities will remain at their interim locations until testing on the interim “grout curtain” being injected into the earthen abutment next to the Howard Hanson Dam is complete and it is determined that it is safe to return. The legislation calls on the Executive to report back to the Council with a 3- to 5-year relocation plan for County facilities, the period of time the Army Corps has said it will take to design, fund and construct a permanent fix for the dam.