Corps authorizes Lyman floodplain study

Published March 1, 2018

SEATTLE – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials approved a Flood Plain Management Study for the town of Lyman, Washington, and provided the Seattle District $40,000 to complete it.

Three Lyman homes were deemed unsafe by local officials in November following erosion along the Skagit River during a flood November 23-25. Town and Skagit County officials requested Corps of Engineers’ assistance during the flood but public infrastructure was not threatened, a requirement for USACE aid.

“We were able to quickly provide engineering assistance to the town, but during flood events we are limited to protecting public infrastructure,” said Seattle District Emergency Manager Doug Weber. “Our sympathies go out to these residents, but our authorities don’t allow us to provide direct assistance to individual home and property owners.”

The flood plain study will look at long-term solutions the town could implement to reduce future flood risk for its residences. The program does not give the Corps authority to complete detailed final designs or perform any construction activities.

“It will be Lyman’s responsibility to fund, request grants or work with other agencies to implement any recommendations from this study,” said Seattle District Flood Plain Manager Travis Ball. “By developing a conceptual approach with supporting data and analysis, it should help the town secure funding.”

The team will look at several options, including solutions that could also provide salmon habitat benefits, which could also help finding funding sources.
Lyman Mayor Ed Hills requested the study as a result of a mid-December meeting with Seattle District and other federal, tribal, elected, state and county officials. The group met to clarify what authorities each organization had, what programs may be available, and support the town as their leadership worked toward a solution to reduced flood risk and protect lives and property of their community.

“Flood response is ultimately a local responsibility,” said Weber. “Corps support is supplemental to local government efforts. Even if local infrastructure is threatened, if the local government or county hasn’t exhausted their resources, our authority to provide assistance is blocked or severely limited.”

The flood plain study was one recommendation from the meeting and in addition to it, the Corps is providing technical and engineering expertise to help the town develop a flood contingency plan. It’s extremely important for local governments to have a contingency plan, according to Weber. The plan identifies specific actions to ensure community safety and can help expedite getting aid by ensuring they meet county, state or federal requirements or authorities. Following the December 18 meeting, Weber and Ball stayed after to provide assistance as the town began creating a plan and continue providing technical and engineering advice.

“This study will help the town beyond their contingency plan,” Ball said. “We’ve been gathering some historical information since the flood and will continue data collection and analysis through the summer. We’ll complete the study in the fall.”

Lyman is built in a historic river channel, said Ball. For thousands of years the Skagit River meandered throughout that area. At one time probably even running right through where the town lay. “For several years a side channel near the town has been changing,” said Ball. “You can see it in historical satellite images online, but November’s flood really opened that side channel up, causing the erosion.”

Bill Dowell

Release no. 18-007