LACEY, Wash. -- Folks in and around the Snohomish County town of Stanwood are finding it easier to get around these days now that the Stillaguamish River has been brought under control. Over the years, residents would experience flooding from the Stillaguamish River because levees, designed to keep the water out of the area, served to keep the water in when over-topped. It often took days, sometimes weeks for the water to drain out severely impacting residents, businesses and transportation.? According to Stanwood?s Utilities Superintendent Kevin Hushagen," the only way to get the water out was to breach the levy and let it flow out."
That all changed in 2009 thanks to an "out of the box" thinking engineer and a grant from the federal government.? Max Albert, a member of the Stillaguamish Flood Control District reasoned that since water flowed into the city during a flood, there ought to be a way to get it to flow out. He came up with an idea to replace a portion of the levee that protects the town, with a light weight flood gate that would automatically allow floodwater to flow back into the river.
The District?s application for a Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant was approved in 2006 with $105,746 granted from FEMA, $30,000 from the City of Stanwood, and another $18,900 in volunteer labor and materials. The new flood gate was completed the following year.
The first test of the new structure, now known as "the Old Stilly Gate" came during the floods of 2009 when again the Stillaguamish spilled over into an area south of the city.? "The structure worked, it really worked," said Albert. "It passed with flying colors." Water drained from the area in hours instead of days. In addition:
- The impacted railroad opened in 24 hours instead of 48 as in the past.
- ?Highway? 532 opened in 36 hours instead of 3 or 4 days
- The levee, washed out in previous floods, remained intact.
- Upstream flood levels were lowered more rapidly than in past events.
Through the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant program or PDM as it?s called, jurisdictions like the Stillaguamish Flood Control District can receive both technical and financial assistance for mitigation measures designed to reduce loss of life or destruction of property in the event of another disaster, whether a flood, windstorm or earthquake.
The PDM program, funded by congressional appropriation annually, is nationally competitive and requires regional evaluation and prioritization. Like other disaster assistance programs authorized by the Stafford Act, PDM is administered by the states with funding granted through FEMA. In the case of a PDM grant, FEMA provides 75% with the remaining 25% the local share. Small communities considered to be impoverished may be eligible for up to 90% Federal share.
In addition to being cost-effective, projects must be:
- In conformance with a FEMA approved Hazard Mitigation Plan.
- Should be technically feasible and address a recurring problem.
- In conformance with federal wetlands and floodplain regulations.
- Not duplicate benefits available from other sources.
- Be in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.
In addition to local governments and jurisdictions, state and federally recognized Indian Tribes, and public colleges and universities are eligible to compete for PDM Grant funding.
In the case of the Stillaguamish Flood Control District, Albert says that the District hopes to do more such projects with plans for a similar structure in the near future. "We would like to start another flood gate project this summer," he added.
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