New levee has Orting feeling less flood-prone

kari.plog@thenewstribune.comDecember 20, 2013 

About 80 people gathered Thursday in Orting to celebrate the multimillion-dollar Calistoga levee setback that officials say will curb devastating flooding along the Puyallup River.

The event marked the end of a long and collaborative fundraising effort on the $18 million flood-control project, which drew money from at least a dozen local, state and federal agencies.

“This is a big moment for our little town,” City Administrator Mark Bethune said before the groundbreaking ceremony at Calistoga Park.

The new levee will replace a 1.5-mile stretch of levee from the Calistoga Bridge to 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. It also will create habitat for salmon and more than 230 local jobs, Mayor Cheryl Temple said.

Construction for the project, which has been in the works for seven years, should be in full swing by March, Bethune said. The city plans to finish the project by late 2014 or early 2015.

Temple said she proudly describes Orting as “the little city that could” as a result of the major effort to build the levee setback.

The Carbon and Puyallup rivers run through the Orting Valley, and flooding has been an ongoing problem. The existing levee along the Puyallup has overflowed three times since 2006, causing major flooding and corresponding property damage.

The 2006 flood that forced residents to evacuate pointed to a serious need for a solution, Temple said.

“I knew we had to do something,” the mayor said.

Now, seven years later, despite a recession and slow economic recovery, the project is ready for the next step.

“We’re going to save lives, we’re going to save property,” Temple said. “Economically, it’s a regional solution.”

Pierce County was a major player in securing money for the project, which Bethune said has been “shovel ready” for years as the city awaited the necessary funds and permitting requirements. The county approved $6.4 million for the setback levee in October as part of a $12.9 million budget for flood-control projects.

County Executive Pat McCarthy said she saw the effects of the 2006 flooding first hand after only two days in office and thinks Orting’s levee setback will improve the safety of many county residents.

County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald agreed; she chairs the flood control district that was created to help pay for flood-control projects. The setback levee is the first major project funded by the district and the impact of the finished product will have countywide benefits, she said. About 12 percent of the county’s assessed property value lines the Puyallup River floodplain, she said.

“The reality is cities along the river can’t take on these projects by themselves,” McDonald said.

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who attended Thursday’s event, praised the collaborative work of government officials and the various agencies who made the levee project possible.

The project not only will have an economic impact from Orting to the Port of Tacoma, but also will serve as an example to surrounding communities that also struggle with flood problems, he said.

“It can be used as a template for other communities,” Reichert said. “Solutions come from the people that live in the communities. You can see that (in Orting).”

County Councilman Dan Roach echoed Reichert’s remarks.

“When you see a small jurisdiction digging their teeth into something so huge, that’s inspiring,” he said during Thursday’s ceremony. “You’ve set a precedent for what’s to come for other cities in the valley.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 @KariPlog

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