The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is unable to help the town of Lyman build flood protection, according to a letter from the agency.
The agency responded this week to a request from Gov. Jay Inslee to provide flood protection assistance to Lyman after Skagit River flooding the week of Thanksgiving caused erosion that left three families unable to stay in their homes.
Inslee, the town and Skagit County requested assistance from the corps that week and assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency the following week.
Assistance from FEMA is off the table because the flooding was not declared a disaster by the president.
The corps was not able to immediately step in to help because floodwaters were forecast to recede before a project would have been complete.
The agency is limited by law to building flood protection only during flooding or when certain requirements are met. Requirements include that the cost of the project be less than the value of the public infrastructure it protects and that local authorities take a leading role in responding to flooding.
The corps’ recent letter states that the cost-benefit value of various projects it analyzed for the area did not meet the requirement.
Our condolences go out to the residents. It’s a horrible situation. … But it really begins at the local level. That’s how things have to start.
Bill Dowell , spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
It also states the county and state have not provided an adequate response to the situation.
“During the flood event the town and the county had done nothing,” corps spokesman Bill Dowell said.
Lyman Mayor Eddie Hills said there was nothing they could do.
“I would sand bag all day if there was water going over a road or something like that, but that wasn’t this. There was nothing we could do about it,” Hills said.
And while the corps is not authorized to build flood protection solely to protect private homes, the residents uprooted over the holiday feel they’re on their own.
“They’re not going to do anything. That’s insane,” property owner Vicky Guidinger said of the corps.
Corps Col. Mark A. Geraldi recommended in the letter that Lyman and Skagit County work toward a solution using one of four alternatives outlined by the corps.
The corps’ top recommendation is to build protection along the Cascade Trail north of the homes affected by the erosion. It would protect Main Street and utilities.
“It’s very important that the local community begin planning for protection,” Dowell said. “Our condolences go out to the residents. It’s a horrible situation. … But it really begins at the local level. That’s how things have to start.”
Hills said a major hurdle is that the town doesn’t have money to cover the cost of a flood protection project and the county and state haven’t offered to help.
“I’m trying to figure out how to move forward from here,” he said. “I’m going to lean on my state representatives. I’m going to lean on the governor’s office.”
A flood protection project built to last could cost millions.
“We don’t have any funds available to do any work like this. You’re talking $1 million, $2 million or $3 million. … We could put some skin in the game, but we’re talking probably up to $50,000. It would be a drop in the bucket,” Hills said.