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Creek’s flood plain shrinks

Sat., Feb. 20, 2010

Feds grant appeal to limit designated area

After nearly 20 years of slogging through government regulations and appeals, some residents near Chester Creek are breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to a few more dollars in their pockets after the Federal Emergency Management Agency has reduced the size of the Chester Creek flood plain.

Many landowners in the area had protested that they should not be included in the flood plain and be forced to buy expensive flood insurance. Spokane Valley businessman Dick Behm has been at the head of the fight, but he refuses to celebrate before the new flood plain map goes into effect in July. FEMA released a letter of final determination announcing the changes in January.

“I never assume something will happen until it’s finalized,” Behm said. “Dealing with the federal government is like pushing a barrel uphill. You don’t want to be caught on the downhill side.”

The new map takes property north of Eighth Avenue and between 28th and 20th between Glenn and Bowdish roads out of the flood plain area. “It’s been retracted in several parts,” said city of Spokane Valley community development administrative assistant Deanna Griffith. “It has shrunk considerably.

“People are happy about this. This has been a long battle. They’re anxiously waiting for the maps to go into effect so they can take it to their lenders.”

Before the map goes into effect the city must pass a code amendment and will send letters to affected property owners, Griffith said. That won’t be done until the city gets an official map from FEMA and can match it to individual parcels, she said.

The struggle began when a new Chester Flood Plain map was approved by FEMA in 1992. “It was way too high,” Behm said. “It showed water two feet deep all the way up to Sprague Avenue. Of course, that’s never happened in history.”

Soil in the area is porous and water percolates quickly down to the aquifer, he said. The government was using a scenario that assumed frozen ground and three feet of snow melting literally overnight, Behm said. “That’s an impossible scenario,” he said. “When you have two feet of snow on the ground, the ground is not frozen underneath it.”

Behm decided to appeal, but it took him years to gather the required documents. He got engineer reports and statements from various experts, including climatologists. He filed the appeal in 2000. A new map was released in 2006, but Behm and others were still not satisfied. “We rejected the modification because it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “They never took into consideration the dry wells. They went back to double-check it.”

Behm’s warehouse at 321 S. Dishman Road was originally in the flood plain, but he never had to buy flood insurance because he didn’t have a bank loan. He didn’t fight the map for his own benefit, he said. “Because it was wrong,” he said. “They were so stubborn it just ticked me off. I can be as stubborn as they are.”

Now Behm has a sense of satisfaction that his hard work appears to be paying off. “It’s a good feeling to know that I proved myself right on all this,” he said.

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