Flooding puts logging, zoning under scrutiny

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire, urging Washington residents to “step up again” for storm and flood victims, said Monday that the state should study changes in forest practices and land-use zoning as part of the response to last month’s deadly flooding.

Gregoire said she doesn’t want to see a lot of finger-pointing. But she said she wants to know more about how humans made the flooding worse, and what changes might help avoid a repeat.

The storm in early December did at least $1 billion in damage, killed a half-dozen people, displaced hundreds from their homes, and hurt businesses.

State and local governments need to examine forest practices and zoning of homes and businesses in obvious flood plains, the governor said. She had no timeline or specifics, but said a new recovery task force will take up the topic.

Land Commissioner Doug Sutherland, whose agency is helping with cleanup and restoration, said the Forest Practices Board will be part of the discussion.

“We have to turn our attention to prevention and preparedness,” Gregoire told a news conference at the joint field office of the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We left behind some obstacles and problems that if not taken care of will candidly result in more devastation should we have another storm.”

The state has had several so-called 100-year floods in the recent years, she noted. Some long-term answers clearly are needed, she said.

“The one thing I don’t want us to do is to get into finger-pointing — that’s not going to bring anybody’s home back,” she said.

But the state and local governments will need to take a clear-eyed look at how human activities and zoning made things worse, she said.

“Was there something that we — man — did that contributed to the devastation?” she said. “We will ask some of the questions. …

“I think we have to be prepared, and the land-use decisions, whether forest practices or (building) permitting decisions, have got to be a part of that dialogue.

“People get angry when they want to build their house where they want to build their house (despite flood hazards), but there are consequences.”

The governor also issued an appeal for citizens to keep flood victims in mind even as news coverage ebbs. Many people still are displaced, some are having trouble finding work, homes are red-tagged as uninhabitable and “lives have been turned upside down,” she said.

“My call is for all of Washington state to remember, to remember these people are struggling, to step up again,” she said.

She suggested people with home-repair and home-building skills come to the region to volunteer, and said cash donations are greatly needed.

Gregoire said the Legislature is expected to approve a storm-recovery package, including a $50 million flood-control bond issue for Lewis County, a $10 million housing program, $15 million to help local governments with their federal matching money requirement, and $500,000 for calling up the National Guard.

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