A hearings examiner today denied an appeal by Gig Harbor and Milton, clearing the way for the Pierce County Council to vote Tuesday to create a countywide taxing district to pay for flood control.
The two cities filed an appeal in November challenging a step that Pierce County took toward forming a flood-control zone district. A senior county planner had determined creating a countywide flood district would have no significant environmental impacts.
Hearings Examiner Edward McGuire said the cities failed to prove the county planner’s decision “was clearly erroneous.”
The appeal linked the flood control district with the county’s Rivers Flood Hazard Management Plan. Gig Harbor and Milton said an environmental study should analyze the flood control district as well as the updated management plan, which recommends more than $316 million in projects over the next 20 years.
McGuire disagreed, saying the two were linked but not closely enough to warrant a single environmental review. “Either can proceed without simultaneous implementation,” he wrote in his 24-page decision.
The draft environmental review for the flood plan was published Feb. 29. A 45-review period ends April 13.
Pierce County’s position is that state law permits the county’s determination of nonsignificance for the flood control district to be separate from the environmental review of the flood control plan.
The appeal, if successful, could have delayed creation of the flood control district.
The countywide tax, as proposed would be limited to 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The average homeowner would likely pay around $25 per year. It would provide about $7.6 million a year for flood projects.
Under state law, the district could collect up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The soonest the county could start collecting the tax is Jan. 1, 2013.
Gig Harbor officials hoped the appeal would show that Gig Harbor would get no direct benefit from the tax they would pay, and that it would lead to concessions for Gig Harbor – such as a lesser tax rate.
McGuire said the issue of “proportional benefits” is outside the scope of an environmental review.
The county maintains the district must be countywide because the benefit will be widespread. Officials say a widescale, 100-year flood event could do up to $725 million in damage, shutting down Interstate 5 and other roadways, disrupting the Port of Tacoma and damaging sewage treatment plants along the Puyallup River, sending raw sewage into Puget Sound.