Pierce County flood board poised to fund projects

Orting setback levee expected to receive $6.4 million; $1 million might go to wall at Tacoma wastewater plant

Staff writerOctober 5, 2013 

Money from a new countywide flood control tax is expected to be parceled out to projects for the first time this week, with $6.4 million designated for Orting’s Calistoga setback levee.

Leaders of the county’s new flood control zone district also recommend awarding $1 million for a flood wall project at Tacoma’s wastewater treatment plant. It would be the first of six $1 million payments planned for the flood wall over the next six years.

The board of supervisors for the flood control district is scheduled Wednesday to approve spending $10 million in tax dollars collected this year and in 2014. Of that amount, $1 million would be set aside for projects to be included in an Army Corps of Engineers study.

Potential projects were ranked according to flooding risk for public safety and infrastructure, how effectively a project would address flooding and whether it is ready to be built. The advisory committee for the district ranked the Orting and Tacoma projects first and second, respectively, among nearly two dozen projects.

The district’s property tax of 10 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation went into effect this year. The average homeowner pays about $25 per year.

The Orting setback levee will replace a 1.5-mile stretch of levee on the Puyallup River from just beyond the Calistoga Bridge to near the High Cedars Golf Club. It will be set back 200 to 500 feet from the current structure, reducing the risk of flooding by allowing the river to spread out and reconnecting 101 acres of floodplain to it, said Orting building official Ken Wolfe.

Orting already has about $9 million in outside funding for the setback levee. It needs about $8 million more for the project, according to Charla Neuman, a consultant working for the flood control district. The remaining $1.6 million is included in the district’s capital plan for 2015.

The City of Orting hopes to start construction in January and finish the project late next year, said Wolfe, vice chairman of the advisory committee.

The existing levee has overflowed three times since 2006, causing major flooding and property damage in Orting, Wolfe said. The setback will protect the community from more flooding, as well as the loss of life and property it could cause, Wolfe said.

It also will help control flooding throughout the Puyallup River watershed, he said.

The board of supervisors is made up of the seven Pierce County Council members. The flood district’s executive committee recommended the projects last month. Council chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, and vice chairman Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, made the recommendations.

Tacoma requested the district pay the entire

$7.5 million construction cost of the flood wall for the sewage treatment plant, located at the entrance of the Puyallup River into Commencement Bay in the Tacoma Tideflats.

A narrow majority of the flood district’s advisory committee recommended the full $7.5 million, but a minority supported about half that amount, Neuman said.

The executive committee compromised at $6 million, wanting the project to go forward but with Tacoma providing more money, Neuman said.

Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello said the Tacoma project should receive full funding. If a flood were to shut the plant down, untreated sewage would flow into Commencement Bay and close commerce at the Port of Tacoma, he said.

“It’s absolutely instrumental for the region’s economic and environmental health,” said Mello, also a member of the advisory committee.

Tacoma already has put $1.2 million into the project, Mello said. The plant takes in nearly 30 percent of the county’s sewage from Tacoma and areas outside of the city, he said.

“It’s a regional asset,” Mello said. “It’s not just a Tacoma project.”

Mello is hopeful the flood wall will be built by October 2014, with costs reimbursed by the district.

Eight other setback levees and other projects totaling $1.79 million are slated to be approved as part of the $10 million. All of them are along the Puyallup River or waterways connected to it.

This year’s flood control tax revenue is projected at $6.91 million. Nearly

$5 million will pay for capital projects.

The budget also includes $1 million for maintaining and operating existing levees, $204,520 for administration and $691,244 for cities’ local stormwater and flood projects.

The County Council voted in April 2012 to create the separate taxing district to protect residents from catastrophic flooding.

It’s estimated a major flood could cause up to

$725 million in damage, shutting down Interstate 5 and other roads, disrupting the port and damaging sewage-treatment plants along the Puyallup River.

Residents were reminded of that risk between 2006 and 2009, when the county sustained three of the 15 largest floods of the past 100 years.

The cost of potential flood projects is far more than the new tax can pay for. The county’s Rivers Flood Hazard Management Plan projected the total cost for improving river levees and other flood-control structures to reach more than $350 million over the next 20 years.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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