Council keeps focus on king tide flood readiness


August 16, 2023

Town officials remain focused on mitigation of flood conditions ahead of king tide season in the fall. La Conner Town Council members last week endorsed recommendations proposed by Public Works Director Brian Lease for immediate short-term saltwater flood protection remedies along the town’s waterfront.

Lease had earlier shared with the emergency management commission a priority purchase list for materials and equipment – ecology blocks, sandbags, a sandbagging machine and forklift.

“I’d like to have sandbags filled and on pallets by Oct. 1,” Lease told the advisory panel during its Aug. 8 session at Maple Hall that preceded that evening’s council meeting.

“Time is of the essence,” agreed Commission Chair Bill Stokes, a former council member whose Caledonia Street home sustained severe damage during flooding on Dec. 27, 2022.

Stokes has been in contact with officials of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe about placing flood barriers on their property abutting the south waterfront.

“Their executive director seemed very on board with it,” Stokes reported. “He didn’t expect it to be a big problem. I’m just waiting to hear back.”

There is some optimism that Upper Skagit might help purchase the barriers that would be positioned on the tribe’s La Conner property.

“My main focus for this commission,” stressed Stokes, “is to prepare ahead so we don’t have to do something at the last minute. If we don’t do things ahead of time, we’re just going to be dealing with recovery.”

The walking tour of the north waterfront to determine where best to station barriers there before anticipated fall and winter flood threats was reported in the Aug. 9 Weekly News.

Everyone agrees that communication between the Town and private property owners will be essential.

“We’ll need to reach out to the Chamber of Commerce and business owners,” Town Administrator Scott Thomas emphasized.

Stokes is encouraging commissioners to jot down for Council members specific ideas and recommendations related to local emergency preparedness.

Lease had his list prior to the meetings with the commission and council. The sandbag machine is at or near the top of his flood control menu.

“It’s a huge time-saver,” he said, “and it’s something we can easily move and set up.”

Lease estimated the town will need to put in place more than 8,000 sandbags to mitigate saltwater flooding here. He said a sandbag machine, when staffed by four people, can fill about 3,400 bags per hour. The 8,000 sandbags will require over 100 pallets for staging.

“I would like to have 80 per cent of our barriers in place before we have a flood event,” he said.

The preference, if funding allows, is to purchase rather than rent flood control equipment. Lease said the town paid $12,000 monthly in flood equipment rental fees last year.

Councilmember Rick Dole, liaison to the commission, praised Lease for having “put together an excellent cost sheet.”

Dole added that part of the cost can be recouped by renting the machine to other jurisdictions.

Dole said the essential items on Lease’s list are expected to cost about $117,000. The town has $163,000 in its flood account, he said.

Finance Director Maria DeGoede pointed out that covering all items listed would “clean out” the flood fund.

“That’s all you’ve got in there,” she said. “You’ll be starting over.”

Given the devastation caused by the Dec. 27 flood – residential and commercial property damages in La Conner totaled nearly $2 million – Hayes and the Council reached a preliminary consensus authorizing Lease to explore further the cost and feasibility of acquiring the materials and equipment on his list.

“You’ve got the green light to get going with this,” said Hayes.

Nell Thorn Reservations

In other town business:

Resident Barbara Brunisholz objected during the public comment section of the meeting to the use by developers of the 19-unit Center Street apartment/condo proposal of the moniker “Talmon Project” for their on-site infrastructure improvement plan. Brunisholz said the name is disrespectful to former planning commission member Linda Talman, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the proposed three-story development. “They’re thumbing their nose at Linda Talman, they’re giving her the middle finger,” said Brunisholz. “I wish the council could refuse the project for them being so rude.”

Planning Director Michael Davolio said a the Center Street project pre-construction meeting with involved parties is planned and Lease will make sure all work at the site will be done consistent with what is mandated in the Town engineering report.

Hayes said one of his “last acts as mayor” will be lining up a meeting between Town officials – including mayor-in-waiting Marna Hanneman – and Port of Skagit leadership to discuss the port’s long-range plans for re-visualizing the marina. “We’re taking this to the commission level,” Hayes said. “We want to have a dialogue that gives the new mayor a solid foundation.”

Councilmember Mary Wohleb announced that the Town has gained state grant monies to conduct feasibility studies for future installation of solar heating systems at the fire station and La Conner Schools campus.


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