Senator announces $44 million in federal money for repairs at Green River dam south of Seattle

SEATTLE (AP) — A key Senate committee has approved $44 million to repair a badly weakened reservoir wall at Howard Hanson Dam to lessen the flood danger to homes and businesses — including Boeing, Starbucks and REI — in the heavily developed Green River Valley south of Seattle.

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray announced Thursday she had included money for the repairs in a supplemental appropriations bill.

The wall next to the flood control dam in the Cascade foothills was severely weakened by heavy rains in January 2009. That greatly increased the flood risk downstream in the heavily developed Green River Valley, where about 170,000 people live.

Murray said the economic effects of a flood in the valley would be devastating — officials have estimated that property damage alone from a severe flood could total $3.7 billion. Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Washington business and political leaders went to Washington, D.C., last week to push for the money.

"People's homes, jobs, and livelihoods are at stake," Murray said in a written statement. "Waiting for funding continues to put the region at risk. I have made absolutely clear to my colleagues that this is a serious concern and I'm very proud to have secured this funding."

Murray is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The emergency appropriations bill for this fiscal year still must be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified short-term repairs that need to be made quickly and would cost $44 million. Lt. Col. James Rollins, the corps' deputy district commander at the dam, said last week that once the money is obtained and a final design approved, it would take about 90 days to award a contract and four months to have the repairs substantially completed.

The sprawling Green River Valley holds the fifth-largest industrial park in the nation, and protecting homes and businesses with miles of sandbags last year cost millions. According to Gregoire, Boeing alone has spent $25 million to surround its Kent space center with a sandbag barrier.

The valley also includes parts of four suburban cities, hundreds of warehouses and small manufacturers, a regional coffee roasting plant for Starbucks and Recreational Equipment Inc.'s headquarters.

No flooding has yet occurred, and the Army corps temporarily raised the water level behind the dam this spring to test interim repairs.

Officials have said a permanent repair, which could be a deep concrete wall running the length of the damaged reservoir abutment, would take at least three years to complete and could cost $500 million.