KENT, Wash. – Repairs to the Howard Hanson Dam have eased many of the fears that gripped people living and working in the Green River Valley over the past year. But a lack of confidence about the levees downstream is threatening to create an economic logjam.
When Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke walks along the tops of the elaborate levee system protecting her City from the Green River she wonders what's below her feet.
"We don't know what these things are made of," said Cooke as she prepares for the spring high water season.
Because of that lack of knowledge, there are concerns the levees could leak or fail under pressure. That's one reason none of the levees in Kent have received federal certification. If they don't soon, the economic future of the valley could be in trouble.
Existing companies might need to raise the elevation of their massive warehouses and pay higher insurance rates -- if they can get coverage at all. New companies could be chased off by those same concerns.
The problem is complicated by dueling standards by state and federal agencies. Some demand higher levees with no vegetation on them. Others require trees to provide cooling shade for protect salmon.
It leaves cities like Kent with some serious concerns and repairs that could cost millions of dollars.