Trouble on the river

Fractured dike near Gold Bar poses flooding danger


Herald Writer

GOLD BAR — With a backdrop of a crystal-clear blue sky and no rain, Mike McCallister stands atop a dike that holds the Wallace River on course.

"It’s a beautiful day," he said. "But in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think that the next time I stand here, it will be pouring buckets of rain, it’ll be windy and my Thanksgiving dinner will be on the table at home waiting for me."

McCallister, coordinator of emergency management for Snohomish County, lucked out this year, but has had to spend several past Thanksgivings thigh-deep in flood waters.

In 1990, Snohomish County suffered the worst flooding on record during Thanksgiving weekend. Last year on Thanksgiving weekend, McCallister was high atop the dike along the Ebey Slough near Lake Stevens, watching sandbag walls being built to keep slough waters from washing out the Lake Stevens sewer plant.

And while Thanksgiving weekend this year may turn out better than other years, he’s still worried about some "hot spots" in the county that have the potential to flood this winter.

The biggest problem may be the dike at Gold Bar.

"We think this dike was built in the 1950s as an access route for someone who had a home up on the hill," he said. "It’s not been maintained in the past 40 or 50 years. If it goes, there are people who will be getting their feet wet."

McCallister said that on a well-maintained dike, trees are only permitted to grow to a diameter of about six inches. On this dike, some of the trees are two feet in diameter.

In fact, it was a tree of that diameter that fell into the Wallace River and pulled several feet of the dike with it. A property owner in the area discovered that last spring and alerted the city.

But Gold Bar Mayor Ken Foster said even though the dike is in the city, it is not the city’s responsibility.

"Nobody is certain who built it," Foster said, and McCallister agreed. "If the city were to go in there now and claim responsibility for it, the city would be liable if anything happened. We’ve been advised (by the city attorney) not to go there."

McCallister, who also was contacted by the nearby property owners, said the dike isn’t the county’s property either. And when he checked with the Army Corp of Engineers, they have no records that they built the dike.

In most cases, area property owners form diking districts and pay property taxes to the district for the purpose of keeping up the dike, McCallister said. That’s what happened near Lake Stevens and it was that diking district that took charge when repairs were needed there last year.

Since there is not a diking district at Gold Bar, McCallister said the property owners (a cannery, a developer who plans to build 54 homes on property south of the dike and several homes along Moonlight Drive), are without a government agency to take charge of the needed repairs.

"With a local government leading the way, the repairs can happen more smoothly," he said. "That agency can apply for county and state grants for flood maintenance. That agency also has staff to do the required environmental and engineering studies and get the permits.

"If an individual had to do all that it could take $30,000 to $50,000."

County officials think the actual work would only be a few thousand dollars, once all the hoops were jumped, to repair the dike.

But Tony Nahajski, county surface water management, said the county’s position is that the dike belongs to the city of Gold Bar because it is in the city limits.

"We have no jurisdiction to be there," he said. "We would help with the steps to qualify to get money for repairs, but we can’t take the lead."

Mayor Ken Foster said the city isn’t trying to duck responsibility.

"But we don’t have any money to do the repairs," he said.

Meanwhile, some stop-gap measures have been taken.

A property owner and the city of Gold Bar worked to cut the tree that had fallen. Then the root ball and stump of the tree were pulled back into the dike and anchored with heavy cords. It was stabilized with "rip rap," large rocks and a load of gravel.

"We deemed it an emergency measure," said Dave Schmidt, Gold Bar city administrator. "It is a temporary stabilization because of an immediate threat to property."

But McCallister said it is obvious that if the area gets heavy rain or a heavy snow melt, the Wallace River will fill and erode away more of the dike. The river may also cut a new path that would leave water running all the way to Creek Road, endangering most of Gold Bar.

Cliff Ifft, engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps can’t do anything to fix the dike until a local government agency takes responsibility for requesting funding and help from the federal government.

"Nothing can be done without a local sponsor," he said. "Until then, this is considered private property and we don’t have the authority to help a private land owner."

McCallister said he and volunteers with emergency management have been through training this year and had weather officials tell them that this is an "El Nino Neutral" year. That means that any weather pattern, including more moisture than normal, is possible.

"That’s why I am afraid that we’ll be out there sandbagging and declaring an emergency in order to get some help," he said.

In Snohomish County, 5.89 inches is the normal amount for November. Temperatures also matter, weather officials said. This area can be expected to be equal, more, or less than the average temperature of 45.3 degrees in November.

"Certainly, there’s the chance of flooding," the official said. "Big floods happen in neutral years. But that doesn’t mean they will happen."

The situation is discouraging to McCallister.

"The funny part is that I know there is money at the county and the state level to do the repairs," he said. "But it’s a jurisdictional dispute. Nobody wants to stand up and say "It’s mine and I’ll fix it."

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - A sign hangs at a Taco Bell on May 23, 2014, in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Declaring a mission to liberate "Taco Tuesday" for all, Taco Bell asked U.S. regulators Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to force Wyoming-based Taco John's to abandon its longstanding claim to the trademark. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Hepatitis A confirmed in Taco Bell worker in Everett, Lake Stevens

The health department sent out a public alert for diners at two Taco Bells on May 22 or 23.

VOLLI’s Director of Food & Beverage Kevin Aiello outside of the business on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Coming soon to Marysville: indoor pickleball, games, drinks

“We’re very confident this will be not just a hit, but a smash hit,” says co-owner Allan Jones, who is in the fun industry.

Detectives: Unresponsive baby was exposed to fentanyl at Everett hotel

An 11-month-old boy lost consciousness Tuesday afternoon. Later, the infant and a twin sibling both tested positive for fentanyl.

Cassie Franklin (left) and Nick Harper (right)
Report: No wrongdoing in Everett mayor’s romance with deputy mayor

An attorney hired by the city found no misuse of public funds. Texts between the two last year, however, were not saved on their personal phones.

Firearm discovered by TSA officers at Paine Field Thursday morning, May 11, 2023, during routine X-ray screening at the security checkpoint. (Transportation Security Administration)
3 guns caught by TSA at Paine Field this month — all loaded

Simple travel advice: Unpack before you pack to make sure there’s not a gun in your carry-on.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
To beat the rush this Memorial Day weekend, go early or late

AAA projects busy airports, ferries and roads over the holiday weekend this year, though still below pre-pandemic counts.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Troopers: DUI crash leaves 1 in critical condition in Maltby

A drunken driver, 34, was arrested after her pickup rear-ended another truck late Tuesday, injuring a Snohomish man, 28.

Housing Hope CEO Donna Moulton raises her hand in celebration of the groundbreaking of the Housing Hope Madrona Highlands on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$30M affordable housing project to start construction soon in Edmonds

Once built, dozens of families who are either homeless or in poverty will move in and receive social and work services.

Ashley Morrison, left, and her mother Cindi Morrison. (Photo provided by Cindi Morrison)
Everett’s ‘Oldest Young Cat Lady’ legacy continues after death

On social media, Ashley Morrison, 31, formed a worldwide community to talk about cats and mental health. Her mom wants to keep it going.

Most Read