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Water, water everywhere - Flooding reaches record levels, but could have been worse
ARLINGTON In spite of water levels reaching record highs during the Stillaguamish Rivers flooding Nov. 6, officials throughout the Arlington and Darrington communities agree that the actual damage could have been much worse.
City of Arlington Public Works Director Len Olive reported that the Stillaguamish River reached a record high of 21 feet at Arlington Nov. 6, surpassing its previous high-water mark of 20.75 feet from Oct. 21, 2003. By contrast, the flood stage for the river is only 14 feet, while its moderate flood stage is 17.5 feet and its major flood stage is 19 feet.
Before 2003, it had never even topped 20 feet, Olive said. Its interesting, because what had been predicted did not occur. To be honest, I cant explain it other than that every flood is different.
Because flooding impacted the north side of the river more than its south side, Haller Park and the area of Highway 530 adjoining Twin Rivers Park were the two areas of the city of Arlington that bore the brunt of its damage. Floodwaters turned the soccer and baseball fields of Twin Rivers Park into a small-scale lake, before knocking aside the heavy concrete barriers on the side of Highway 530 like a miniature dam, shortly after the road was closed that afternoon.
Those barriers were cabled together, so when the waters pushed them across the road, they went as a full string, said Olive, who added that crews began sandbagging the doors of the well house, as well as the back of the Helping Hands building, just after sunset at Haller Park, which only incurred minor damage to its fence.
Olive and Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper agreed that the city took heed of the potential for flood at least as early as Nov. 5. Olive noted that street-sweepers were scheduled for 36 continuous hours, to clear away fallen leaves that could have clogged catch-basins and caused flooding in the citys downtown, while Cooper checked river levels every half-hour.
This was just one weird flood, said Cooper, who claimed that hed never seen the river rise or recede so quickly, and with the levels we saw here, Silvana should have been underwater, but it wasnt hit that hard.
According to Cooper, most of the fire departments duties during the day consisted of either helping their citizens stay safe, by keeping them away from danger areas such as riverbanks or the flooded section of Highway 530, while several protective measures were prepared that went largely unused.
The city had sandbags available to area residents in Legion Park, but none of them got used, Cooper said. The Arlington School District was even ready to open a shelter at Presidents Elementary, if needed.
Because communities such as Arlington Heights, Oso and Darrington could have been stranded for an extended period of time without access to any hospitals, the Arlington Fire Department split its medical personnel with its peers on the other side of the river. Fire department personnel likewise responded to calls with much more equipment, including shovels for sand and rakes for leaves that might otherwise plug up storm drains, so that they wouldnt have to make extra trips.
Arlington School District Public Information Officer Misti Gilman praised the schools staff members for volunteering to do whatever it took to make sure each and every child was safe, fed and comforted, just as she thanked parents and other community members for donating supplies such as sleeping bags, pillows and food for students whom they expected might have to spend the night.
Our entire district, Eagle Creek and Trafton especially, experienced an outpouring of support from the community, Gilman said. Many, many parents brought home their childrens friends, with parental permission. I heard that one high school parent brought 10 kids home to her house in Gleneagle. My husband and son were driven home by someone they met on Haller Bridge, and later, when my husband had transportation, he gave someone a ride home as well.
The school district ran limited transportation Nov. 6-7, and yet, all but two of its students were returned to their homes by 6 p.m., Nov. 6, with the remaining two back in their beds by 9:30 p.m. Even after-school activities, which had been cancelled Nov. 6, were resumed Nov. 7.
The town of Darrington wasnt quite as fortunate, since its students and commuters alike had to spend the night in town, but the community shelter was completely empty by 11 p.m., because the towns residents had taken in all the children and adults. Dennis Fenstermaker, chief of Darrington Fire District 24, echoed Coopers assessment of the cooperation that made it possible for the community to react to the flood, from the coordination between Arlington and Darrington fire personnel, to agencies such as the neighboring Native American tribes, the Snohomish County Sheriffs Office, Public Utility District, Community Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Fenstermaker explained that his first flood-related call came at 10 a.m. Nov. 6, which he acknowledged was pretty late. He elaborated that previous flooding in 2001 had discouraged many homeowners from occupying the areas that were hardest hit by the Nov. 6 flood, so while the flood did result in property damage and significant damage to forest and timber areas, Fenstermaker received no flood-related 9-1-1 calls that day.
Fenstermaker and his personnel had already scouted out potential trouble spots, such as the Sauk River along its entire length, since the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe could have been threatened if the river had carved a new channel, as well as the Stillaguamish River especially on Whitehorse Drive, since he was worried that those homes could have been washed away.
The fact that these fears didnt come to pass could be attributed to sandbagging on the part of area residents, in Fenstermakers opinion, since he estimates that close to 4,000 sandbags were distributed that day. Of equal importance to Darrington was their temporary loss of Highway 530 as a life support transportation route, until the morning of Nov. 7.
Without it, we couldnt get more food or gas, Fenstermaker said. For one day, its not major, but if it had continued, it would have been a cause for some concern.
The floods erosion of the bank along Clear Creek Road is a continuing cause for concern, however, since Fenstermaker emphasized that well have to repair that soon, or else it could become unusable shortly.
In the meantime, Fenstermaker expressed his gratitude toward his neighbors, including the Darrington School District students headed up by Ray Franke, a teacher at the middle and high schools. Franke organized the volunteer group of 35 students, as they sandbagged from 10 a.m. until late in the evening, even though hed released them from their duties at the end of the school day.
The kids with pickup trucks drove around, dropping off sandbags and even helped to haul furniture, Franke said. The recipients of their generosity greatly appreciated it, the parents were supportive of letting them do it, and the kids themselves were enthusiastic and put their money where their mouths were when it came to community service.