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For hydrologic reasons, deny Wal-Mart application

Another Voice column

By JANET CORSALE

Special to the News

Hood River County should find the Wal-Mart application incomplete and deny the project as proposed. As stated in Wal-Mart’s most recent flood study, the proposed project will increase flood flows and reduce floodplain storage.

The County’s review criteria for the application includes grading and surface water criteria as follows:

“Any grading, contouring, on-site surface drainage, and/or construction of on-site surface water storage facilities shall take place so that there is no adverse effect on neighboring properties, public right-of-way, or the public storm drainage system.”

The County’s consultant, Vigil & Agrimis (VA), recently made the following recommendation: “Based on our review of the applicant’s hydrologic and hydraulic analyses, we find that the current site plan does not meet the County’s criteria for no adverse effects.” Further, Vigil & Agrimis stated, “The applicant appears to have both multiple errors and/or contradictions in the information that they have provided the County on lost floodplain storage, which is a key issue in understanding downstream flooding potential.”

The Citizens for Responsible Growth retained Pacific Water Resources, Inc. (PWR), a consulting firm widely respected in the Northwest for their expertise in floodplain management.

PWR found numerous errors in the applicant’s flood study. They concluded that the applicant’s hydrologic and hydraulic models do not conform to the standards of engineering practice for floodplain studies that are established in the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This conclusion has not changed even after the applicant has made six separate submittals.

At the recent public hearing, the applicant’s consultant, Maul Foster & Alongi, stated that the application should be approved, because Phelps Creek has already flooded the Columbia Gorge Hotel. This line of logic is highly flawed and irresponsible. It is standard practice within the engineering community to apply a “factor of safety” to analysis and design when there are known problems that have potential to damage public and private infrastructure or to threaten public safety.

It would be prudent of public officials to remember that the applicant only took the flooding issue seriously when the original County staff report recommended denial. Until that point in time, the applicant falsely claimed that the 500-year flood stayed completely within the channel. This claim was maintained for almost a year after I submitted a report to the County on behalf of CRG that documented the extent of flooding and damage in February 1996 at the site and Columbia Gorge Hotel. This claim was maintained until Vigil & Agrimis, the County’s consultant, told the applicant to remove this false statement from their reports and drawings.

What is interesting and difficult to understand is that the recent County staff report recommends approval of the application. Nothing has changed. This issue has not gone away. The applicant has not submitted a study that conforms to the standards of engineering practice. The applicant has not proposed a site plan that mitigates the adverse impact of increased flooding on adjacent properties.

The County has a responsibility to provide for public safety and protection of existing public and private property. It would likely be very difficult for the County to defend approval of this project in a future lawsuit given the following facts:

In February 1996, Phelps Creek flooded the proposed project site and adjacent properties, closed Frankton and Country Club Roads, and caused extensive damage to the Columbia Gorge Hotel.

The applicant has admitted that the proposed project will increase flood flows and reduce floodplain storage.

The County’s consultant has stated that the application does not meet the County’s design criteria to show no adverse impact.

CRG’s consultant has shown that the flood study is flawed and significantly underestimates potential flooding.

The applicant has not proposed to mitigate the problem.

The County approved this project without a flood study and design that conform to standard engineering practices.

As a water resources engineer registered in Oregon and Washington, it is difficult to imagine how Hood River County could ignore the facts and approve this project. Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in the United States. They can and should afford to provide for public safety and protection of infrastructure. Can Hood River County afford to approve their project sight unseen?

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Janet Corsale, PE, is a water resources engineer living in White Salmon.

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