Fish hatchery, nearby homes flood

January 8, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

NEW — 2:43 p.m. Jan. 8, 2008

The flood waters from Issaquah Creek exceeded the capabilities of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery late Wednesday. Workers are now cleaning up the sand and silt left behind.

“This is the worst I’ve seen it in 19 years of work here,” said Mike Griffin, a hatchery manager. “It rivals the 1996 flooding.

“Considering the amount of water and the height of the creek, we survived pretty good,” he added.

Mike Griffin, Issaquah Hatchery manager, pauses from raking sediment from drains to clear Issaquah Creek flood waters at the hatchery spawning ponds. — By Chantelle Lusebrink

Mike Griffin, Issaquah Hatchery manager, pauses from raking sediment from drains to clear Issaquah Creek flood waters at the hatchery spawning ponds. — By Chantelle Lusebrink

However, Griffin said he was expecting to lose some fish.

“Usually, when the front ponds fill up, a few of the fish wash out,” he said.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Griffin said he’s waiting to see how many fish are lost due to the silt and mud that have washed into the ponds.

Large filters at the end of the ponds had trapped sand and mud about 20 feet wide and about 3 feet tall. Unfortunately, much of that had slowly seeped into the ponds.

“It isn’t good for their gills, that is for sure,” Griffin said of the fish inside. “But they are fairly healthy and suited for this kind of event in the Pacific Northwest.”

He was working as fast as possible to drain the water by clearing all of the hatchery’s available drains, so he could begin working on filtering the sand and mud from the ponds.

“That’s the big job and it will take days,” he said.

Griffin also lives on the hatchery property and said the water was within a half-inch of making its way inside.

“This morning, my entire house was an island,” he said. “I came home in my waders and got up this morning to put my waders back on, and that was just to get to high ground.”

Aside from his home, though, several 10-cubic yard trash bins came in close contact with the creek, too, he said.

“They came down the creek and when they hit the bridge, it sounded like a sonic boom,” he said.

Near the intersection of Front Street South and Newport Way, you could see one of those trash bins near Julie Nierenberg’s home on Front Street South.

Inside the home, there’s the constant buzz of water slurping through shop vacuum cleaners.

Kathy Nierenberg, Julie’s daughter-in-law, said she and her husband, who live in Fall City, and his brother Rich Nierenberg and his wife Linda, who live in Sammamish, had been at the home since about 2 a.m. trying to contain the water to the basement.

“We’ve been at it for nearly 10 hours,” Kathy Nierenberg said. “It’s let up a lot. At one point, we were just trying to keep up with it coming in.”

Despite the home’s three and a half foot cement wall, sump pump and a small sandbag dam the children built yesterday, the water seeped into the basement at about 1:45 a.m.

The home has been flooding on and off for nearly 43 years, since Julie Nierenberg moved into it in 1966.

“This is one of the worst ones,” Kathy Nierenberg said. “It came up all the way around to the front yard and that has only happened a couple of times.”

By about noon, the three shop vacuums had sucked most of the water from the basement, except for one back storage room, which still had about a foot of water in it.

“It fills in about 30 seconds,” Rich Nierenberg said. “Every 30 seconds, we have to stop and dump it down the drain in the basement.”

While her children and their spouses worked on the home, they said Julie, who’s about a month away from turning 90, has kept them supplied with ham sandwiches and coffee.

Much of the furniture can be dried out and the appliances — refrigerator, stove and washer and dryer — all seem to still be working.

“It’s amazing how many floods they’ve made it through and they just keep going,” Kathy Nierenberg said.

But it will take weeks to completely dry the home out and get rid of any damaged items, Rich Nierenberg said.

Once that’s done, Julie Nierenberg will them all out for a nice dinner — the only payment they need, Rich Nierenberg said, smiling.

The Masonic Lodge and the Issaquah Brew House, also near the hatchery were spared for the most part, said Brian Thomas, secretary for the Masons.

The water missed the lodge, built in 1912, by about four inches, he said.

“We’re having a big shindig over there Saturday and I was worried, so I came down to check on the building,” he added. “We dodged a bullet, thank goodness. But we’ve been clearing out the drains to help take the water down.”

The Brew House was also saved, but by a smaller margin. The ground-level apartments on the east side of the building did flood by a few inches. The restaurant missed flooding by about an inch or so.

Even though people had to wade through puddles, the footbridge at the hatchery was busy with visitors.

“I haven’t been in Issaquah that long,” said Renée Pound, co-owner of art by fire, a glass blowing studio on Front Street. “But this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

Pound and her husband, Lenoard Whitfield, took a break from their studio to walk to the hatchery to look at the creek, which was still raging with rainwater.

“I was running down Front and Newport on my daily run and had to obviously backtrack,” said Don McQuinn, a five-year Issaquah resident, who was also at the bridge.

His condo at Coho Run was unaffected by the flooding.

“We’re on a bit higher ground from the creek,” he said. “But across the street, the water had come up 1 to 2 feet and was resting against their foundations.”

Looking at the water in the creek, McQuinn said it was the highest he’d seen in the area.

“Those salmon wouldn’t have any trouble getting over that damn now, if only they could swim at 30 miles per hour,” he said.

Bertina Sedlack and her two sons, Alexander, 9, and Peter, 6, were also strolling through downtown to look at the flooding.

Ironically, the same water rushing through the creek was likely melted snow the Sedlacks had had at their home at the top of Squak Mountain for weeks.

“We got the brunt of the snow, but not the rain,” Bertina Sedlack said. “We’re out exploring, because it’s not often you get to see this.”

“Yeah, I wish I had my swim trunks,” Alexander Sedlack said.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or

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