Flood cleanup to be costly, lengthy
February 17, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
When Issaquah Creek overflowed its banks six weeks ago, rising waters left the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery with at least $20,000 damage. Water damaged the hatchery foreman’s house and an office used by hatchery volunteers. Four inches of mud coated the hatchery parking lot.
Still, “we feel lucky that we got off as easy as we did,” said Gestin Suttle, executive director of Friends of the Issaquah Hatchery.
Weeks after the Issaquah and Tibbetts creeks spilled over their banks, flood victims are knee-deep in ongoing recovery efforts. Businesses once hobbled by the flooding are repaired and reopened. Municipal crews have cleaned up the last of the major flood debris. And, at the salmon hatchery, workers and volunteers said teamwork helped speed recovery efforts.
All told, the estimated flood response and recovery cost the city about $158,000 for debris removal, sandbagging and bank restoration at several bridges. The city budgeted about $37,000 for these efforts, but because King County was declared a federal disaster area, city officials will apply for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Officials anticipate a 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA. The state could reimburse an additional 12.5 percent.
By contrast, the city’s response to December’s heavy snow totaled $205,000. Of that, about $87,000 was spent in 2008 and roughly $118,000 was spent this year. Officials budgeted about $152,000 for 2009 snow removal; about $34,000 remains.
The city went through 15,000 sandbags during the flood — half of the sandbags kept on hand.
Bret Heath, director of Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said the city was prepared for the flooding. The quick turnaround from snow to floodwaters entailed long shifts for his team, but he said the response was well-rehearsed. Past floods helped the city hone its response, he said.
“Flooding is a very quick event,” he said. “It comes on fast, peaks and leaves quickly.”
Most of the major flood debris was cleaned up within a week after the storm, he said. Crews continue to remove debris from the municipal storm water system. Some of the efforts will have to wait until the summer “fish window” — weeks when the recovery effort is less likely to interfere with salmon activity.
While floodwaters swept some fish from the hatchery, most of the salmon were spared. But the flooding stirred up sediment, leading to problems with water quality. Suttle likened the silt-laden water to a dust storm. Sediment can cause gill irritation and other problems for the fish.
“If it had lasted much longer, we would have had some mortality,” hatchery foreman John Kugen said.
When floodwaters threatened the hatchery, volunteers and workers filled sandbags and moved equipment to higher ground. Flooding caused extensive damage at Kugen’s residence, a three-bedroom house on hatchery grounds. At the hatchery’s upper intake about a mile upstream, trees that toppled during the flood caused extensive damage to the structure. The debris and trees also slowed the flow of water downstream.
Kugen estimated the cost of damage to the hatchery and his house between $20,000 and $30,000. The hatchery is also seeking FEMA aid.
Suttle said the flooding showed her how Issaquah Creek can turn from placid to perilous.
“You realize how powerful the water is,” Suttle said. “We were looking at Issaquah Creek and going, ‘It’s not a creek right now. It’s a raging river — with whitecaps.’”
Water also seeped into the FISH volunteer office and coated the soggy carpet with a layer of mud. In the aftermath, volunteers repainted the office and Long’s Flooring donated new carpet. Suttle dubbed it “a room renovation by Mother Nature.”
Lombardi’s Neighborhood Italian Restaurant, part of the hard-hit Gilman Square shopping center along Northwest Gilman Boulevard, also underwent an impromptu renovation following the flood.
Kerri Lonergan, vice president of the Seattle-based local chain, said the company considered closing the restaurant in the days after the floodwaters receded. Instead, Lombardi’s reopened Jan. 30, less than a month after two feet of water and several inches of foul-smelling mud filled the restaurant. Repair costs topped $250,000. Lonergan estimated the cost of lost business at $90,000.
Customers have returned in force, she said. She described the restaurant’s patrons as a mix of loyal regulars and new customers who had heard about the struggle Lombardi’s faced after the flood.
In addition to an updated kitchen and dining room, Lombardi’s also reopened with an expanded menu that includes pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin and prime rib rubbed with rosemary and sage. Lonergan said some of the upgrades to the restaurant were welcome, but the circumstances were not.
“This is not the way to go about remodeling a restaurant,” she said.
Disaster Recovery Center opens at City Hall
City Hall will serve as a federal Disaster Recovery Center beginning at noon Feb. 18. The center will be set up to provide assistance to people whose homes or property were damaged during January’s severe winter weather.
Applicants can register for disaster assistance by calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency toll-free at 1-800-621-3362, from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., seven days a week. Register online at www.disasterassistance.gov.
The registration deadline is March 31.
It is not necessary to visit the center to register for assistance. The center is set up to answer questions about eligibility and to help people complete loan applications. While it is possible to register at the center, FEMA and Washington Emergency Management Division officials encourage people to register before visiting.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays. The center is located in City Hall’s Eagle Room, 130 E. Sunset Way.
FEMA may refer some homeowners and renters to the U.S. Small Business Administration for assistance. SBA disaster loans are the primary source of money to pay for repair or replacement costs not fully covered by insurance or other compensation. SBA also offers low-interest disaster loans to businesses and nonprofits.
Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence. Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property. Businesses may borrow up to $2 million for any combination of property damage or economic injury.
Citizens may apply to SBA at any Disaster Recovery Center or online at http://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Citizens should register with FEMA before applying with the SBA.
The registration deadline for SBA assistance is March 31 for physical damage and Oct. 30 for economic injury.
Homeowners and renters should submit their SBA disaster loan application even if they aren’t sure if they need or want a loan. If SBA cannot approve the application, applicants may be referred to FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance program for possible assistance.
Cities helped one another during flooding
Under a mutual-aid agreement with other Eastside cities, Issaquah sent backhoes and dump trucks to Snoqualmie to assist with recovery efforts there.
“We reach out to other municipalities in situations like that,” said Mike Roy, operations manager for the Snoqualmie Public Works Department.
The cities of North Bend and Sammamish also sent crews and equipment to Snoqualmie. Roy praised the municipal crews as hard workers.
Issaquah will bill Snoqualmie for use of the equipment.
“Any resident would expect them to recoup those costs,” Roy said.
Property tax relief available for flood victims
Property owners whose homes and land were affected by January flooding could be eligible for tax relief, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Property damaged or destroyed by the natural disaster could qualify for a reduction of assessed value, which could result in lower property taxes and possible refunds. Moreover, property located in declared “disaster areas” might be eligible for a tax break — even if the flooding did not damage the parcel.
The amount of reduction is based on the amount of value loss and when the natural disaster occurred. Applications must be filed within three years of the date of destruction or reduction in value, according to the state revenue department. A prompt claim helps assessors begin the process of correcting values more quickly.
Property owners may apply for relief at the King County Department of Assessments. The destroyed property form is also available at the department’s Web site — www.kingcounty.gov/assessor. Property owners who qualify for a reduction in value affecting 2009 taxes will receive a corrected tax statement after the mid-February mailing of tax bills.
Learn more at www.dor.wa.gov.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.