This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Pierce County has narrowly dodged too many deluges in recent years to take flood control lightly.
It will likely have to dodge a few more before low-lying areas are adequately protected from rising waters. A new flood management plan won’t be ready until next spring, and levee repairs and other improvements could be a decade out.
The Pierce County Council got a jumpstart this spring when it approved a countywide flood control district to foot part of the bill for flood control projects.
But some cities are balking at the inclusion of their residents. Bonney Lake is challenging the district’s boundaries, and Lakewood is considering filing a similar complaint before the Boundary Review Board.
City officials contend that residents who live outside the flood plain shouldn’t have to pay.
What they miss is that flood control isn’t just about the people unfortunate or unwise enough to live in flood zones.
It’s also about the universal peril of unrestrained flood waters in urban areas. More than homes are in the path of a potential flood; so are vital highways, railroad lines and economic engines such as the Port of Tacoma.
Transportation officials estimated economic losses of $4 million a day when the January 2009 flood shut down the state’s two main interstate highways. Pierce County braced for the worst that never arrived, but uninsured losses and damage to public infrastructure such as roads still ran into the millions.
When a flood paralyzes one half of the state, it’s not just commerce that comes to a halt. People’s lives do too.
Flood control is a public good. Its benefits accrue to anyone in Pierce County who needs to get somewhere or who somehow benefits from a strong economy. In other words, its benefits accrue to everyone.
That said, the potential benefits are greater for people living in the flood plain, who but for levees might see floodwaters beating a path to their doors.
County Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, has a plan that would address tiered benefits: tiered taxing. He proposes that everyone pay something, but communities closest to the rivers pay more.
State law allows the county to charge up to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value, but the county shouldn’t need near that much.
Muri figures the county will have to raise $30 million to $40 million for its share of the flood control work. By bonding and spreading the cost countywide, the county would bring the yearly tab down to about $7.50 for the owner of a $250,000 home.
Charge flood plain areas more, and the homeowners in Lakewood and Bonney Lake would be looking at an even lower bill.
It’s a small price to pay to avoid the inconvenience wreaked by floods, let alone the destruction to public property and economic activity.