Town panel takes north end flood mitigation walking tour


August 9, 2023

Key steps were taken last week – both literally and figuratively – to mitigate saltwater flooding on La Conner’s north end.

Public Works Director Brian Lease led members of La Conner’s emergency management commission on a one-hour July 25 walking tour of low-lying spots along the north waterfront from the Washington Street-end past Channel Lodge on North First Street.

The six-member advisory panel. chaired by Bill Stokes and established in response to severe saltwater flooding here last December, will soon be making a recommendation to the town council on barrier placement on the waterfront ahead of the king tide season.

Commissioners have also been in contact with officials of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe about placing barriers on its south end property at the old Puget Sound Freight Lines.

“There’s not much of a problem between the Pier 7 Building and Calico Cupboard,” said Lease, who displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of which properties are privately owned.

The north end poses distinct challenges and will require communication between Town leaders and private property owners, he noted, providing several examples where flood barriers placed to protect Town rights-of-way could divert water onto private property.

“We’ll need to contact the property owners and let them know about the Town flood mitigation plan and how it might impact them,” Stokes said. “We would help them, of course.”

Mayor Ramon Hayes agreed that property owners should be given the option of having barriers – either sandbags or Ecology Blocks – placed on their lots.

“I think the property owners would be on board with that,” said Hayes.

The plan is to place barriers ahead of flood season, leaving gaps for people to walk through. Those gaps would be filled immediately should conditions like the Dec. 27 weather present themselves again.

That flooding, which Lease likened to “a raging river,” was the result of a king tide, extremely low barometric pressure, strong westerly winds, rainfall and rapid ice and snow melt-off from a prior winter storm.

Swinomish Community Service Officer Brian Geer described it at the time as a perfect storm bearing imperfect consequences. Residents and business owners sustained combined property damages nearing $2 million.

Afterward, the Town authorized an engineering survey to determine elevations along the waterfront and identify areas most at risk of saltwater encroachment.

Until then, the primary focus of flood concerns had been the Skagit River, though a 2017 design charette held at Maple Hall featuring scientists and representatives of environmental protection groups addressed potential threats from sea level rise and climate change.

“We’ve talked with the Army Corps of Engineers,” Lease noted, “and never went anywhere on the saltwater side. It was all about the river side.”

Staff has regularly conferred with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen on the saltwater flooding issue, Hayes said. “We’re definitely involved with Congressman Larsen,”

Councilmember Rick Dole, who championed a commission to address a wide range of emergencies – earthquakes, tsunamis and severe weather, in addition to flooding – often lingered behind the tour to explain why the group was engaged in serious conversation while milling about the boardwalk and sidewalks.

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“I could’ve collected money from everyone who asked what was going on,” Dole quipped. “I could’ve said we were conducting La Conner’s underwater tour.”

Dole afterward termed the tour “excellent.” Council approval will lay the groundwork for purchase of necessary flood mitigation materials this year.

There will be two commission meetings in August, on Aug. 8 and Aug. 22, both starting at 4:30 p.m. at Maple Hall.


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