Between a creek and a hard place

Concrete citizen fears his property’s value will plummet
By Jason Miller

Bill Chamness has a problem with water. His property, located at 7639 S. Superior Ave. in Concrete, has a neighbor that doesn’t respect his boundaries.

Lorenzen Creek runs through a shallow channel along the northern edge of Chamness’ eight acres. The land here is nearly flat, causing the creek to travel at an almost imperceptible pace and allowing any silt in the water to settle out and fill the channel.

That’s exactly what happened last winter, when above-average levels of snow, warmth, and rain combined to flood areas usually safe from such events.

Chamness’ property was one such area. Burdened with silt from a Burpee Hill mudslide, Lorenzen Creek made its way to Chamness’ flat land, slowed down, dropped its silt, overflowed its channel, and let itself into Chamness’ home.

“I didn’t care so much about the buildings on my property; but now I’m concerned that the property itself will be left unusable for future development,” said Chamness. He is trying to sell the property, which has been in his family for decades.

Missed opportunity
Chamness appeared before the Concrete Town Council in early 2009, informing them of his situation and saying he’d begun a conversation with Wendy Cole, an area habitat biologist for the Department of Fisheries. From Concrete officials’ perspective, dredging the creek at the point where it entered Chamness’ property seemed a logical solution, since it had been done in the past.

Not necessarily, said Cole, who noted the salmon and cutthroat trout present in the creek, and told Mayor Judd Wilson and Public Works Director Alan Wilkins that any dredging—a short-term solution at best—would have to be done in a carefully prescribed manner and during a “fish window” from July 1 through Oct. 15, when the number of fish present in the creek were at their lowest point.

Town officials missed that window this year and pressed Cole to let them dredge this fall, a position that brought Cole to town for a Nov. 10 meeting with Mayor Judd Wilson, Public Works Director Alan Wilkins, Assistant Public Works Director Rich Philips, and Chamness.

Town officials came to the table with dredging as the solution, and met with little change on Fisheries’ part.

“In dry or low-water periods, we permit dredging all the time. It’s just not a good long-term solution,” said Cole, who reminded officials of the fish window and wondered why they hadn’t applied for the necessary permits during the first several months of 2009 in order to dredge during the period when it was lawful.

“This just seems like poor planning to me,” said Cole. “Didn’t you call the county to help you, as I suggested?”

“We’re spending most of our time at the wastewater treatment plant and other things,” Public Works Director Alan Wilkins responded. “We’re too busy.”

“You’re too busy to make a phone call?” asked Cole. “I don’t hear that you’re trying too hard to find solutions.”

“I have other things to do than worry about stupid fish,” said Wilkins.

Mayor Wilson summed up the town’s position with one question to Cole: “I just want to know what’s more important, fish or people?” he asked.

“I want to help people,” said Cole. “I seek solutions where people can be helped without harming fish.”

“If there’s no money, there’s no money”
The dredging solution isn’t as straight-forward as it seems at first glance. Fisheries requires any dredging operation to first bypass the section of creek that’s being dredged, meaning that the flow of water must remain uninterrupted—pumped around the work area.

That’s problematic at best for Concrete, said Wilkins, which doesn’t have the equipment or the staff to undertake such a project. Its 5-yard dumptruck also is unsuitable, he said. Skagit County has the equipment and could help, but they couldn’t do it without charging, said Wilkins, and Concrete simply doesn’t have the money to pay for a project of that scale.

“If there’s no money, there’s no money,” he said.

“Aren’t there grants?” asked Cole.

“They’re drying up,” said Wilkins.

Short-term solutions, long-term ideas
For now, sandbagging will keep the creek in its channel. Mayor Wilson and the Concrete High School wrestling team have placed sandbags in the northeast corner of Chamness’ property, where the creek had rerouted itself to form a pond in the southwest corner.

During the Nov. 10 meeting, Wilkins suggested rerouting the creek to make it run along the eastern edge of Silo Park and into a manmade pond with an island. From there, a new channel would allow the water to meander, dropping its silt load before running along the northern edge of State Route 20 and eventually rejoining its current channel near Concrete-Sauk Valley Road.

After a follow-up meeting, Fisheries officials seem willing to accept his proposal.

Posted 12.14.09

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