satpalspeaking

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu was part of a panel of speakers.

Saturday NVHS meeting gives pointers on recovery steps  

  EVERSON ­— At an “after the flood” meeting at Nooksack Valley High School Saturday, the focus was supposed to be on current response, but talk about long-term solutions came up anyway.

  Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen said he is not content to let his town be flooded every five to 10 years with Nooksack River overflow, as flood modeling might indicate. “I think there are things we can do to prevent that, and that’s what I will work on,” he said, to audience applause.

  The question of removing more sediment buildup in the Nooksack was raised, and some of the elected officials at a speakers’ table on stage said they were willing to look into it.

  Lifetime Everson farmer Perry Hoekema, who lives along the river, came to the microphone to say that he saw overflow patterns not seen before and he wants to hear within a month from decision-makers what corrective action will be taken or he will do what he needs to protect his farm himself.

  “[The flood] is not an act of God, I’m sorry. It’s an act of stupidity,” he said.

  Both Christensen and Everson Mayor John Perry said that from the river-crest measure at the Cedarville gage — it was classified “moderate” at .85 foot lower than lesser flood events in 2003 and 2006 — Everson and Sumas should not have been flooded as seriously as they were this time.

  Perry said it indicates to him that the bottom of the river bed, and overall water carrying capacity, needs to considered rather than just the top level of the river.

  All the response was to Feb. 1-2 flooding of the Nooksack River that caused closure of three state highways, including access to the Sumas border station, and countless county roads and the main streets of both Everson and Sumas. Sumas is impacted worst when Nooksack overflow goes into an ancient path northward into Canada’s Fraser River drainage. It 

  Christensen estimated that 26 houses in Sumas got floodwater in living space and 24 more (including his own) had water in garage or basement. Ten businesses suffered damage and 10 streets show settling. 

  Perry said around 40 Everson homes were harmed and he expects the repair bill to be between $600,000 and $700,000.

  A theme of the two-hour morning meeting was for property owners to do an accounting of their damage and to then report it to authorities, so that the tally can possibly result in a federal disaster declaration for the storm that continued farther south in Washington this past weekend.

  Reporting will be through cities and then Whatcom County as a whole. John Gargett, head of the Emergency Management division of the Sheriff’s Office,  gave this phone number as a Damage Assessment Line for flood-followup coordination and information: 360-788-5311.

  Gargett said on Saturday he expects the overall Whatcom damage to be in the $2-$3 million range, at least. But that all needs to be solidly documented.

  Categories of flood recovery assistance are public, individual and business. 

  People were told to take pictures of their damage and keep written track of information. Even damage just in the hundreds of dollars should be reported, and some public agencies can help with the damage assessment. 

  Gargett and County Executive Satpal Sidhu convened this meeting. Also present on stage were 42nd District Sen. Doug Ericksen and Reps. Luanne Van Werven and Sharon Shewmake, 1st District Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, Sheriff Bill Elfo and governor’s representative Joe Timmons.

  Gargett said it’s been determined that floodwaters did not contain hazardous substances, and so disposal of debris can be through normal means.

  Repairs are subject to building codes, with electrical uniform across the state, and any repairs made will need to pass inspection, said county officials. However, the fee will be “significantly reduced” for those dealing with this flood, said Public Works head Mark Personius. 

  Ongoing:

  • Called upon, new County Assessor Rebecca Xczar said that property damage from flooding, if causing a loss of market value, can earn property tax relief. County property tax bills for 2020 go out this week.

  • Rubicon is a veteran-led nonprofit now in Sumas for two weeks, stripping down the interior of damaged houses.

  • From the audience, new member Ben Elenbaas said the County Council is interested in long-term solutions as well, and comment should be directed to councilors.

  • It is possible to be on a Sheriff’s Office Emergency Alert list, to be notified of an emergency situation and recommended actions. Sign up at http://whatcomcounty.us/AlertCenter.aspx?AID=61.

  About the Feb. 1-2 flood:

  • Gargett said one disappointment was the number of people who ventured into floodwater or onto closed roads. “Forty-two water rescues is not acceptable,” he said. Unnecessary rescues divert resources from where they are needed, he said.

  • No river levees were breached — they were over-topped.

  • The Acme and Van Zandt areas experienced significant flood damage, too.

  • A big factor creating snowmelt into the Nooksack River drainage is that the freezing level rose from 3,000 to 7,000 feet “almost overnight,” Gargett said.