By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County hit with FEMA surprise

It turns out the berm was in the floodway all along. But it doesn’t any more, as the floodway was officially amended Thursday to eliminate the discrepancy.

The change was made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response to a Letter Of Map Revision petition submitted by Yamhill County to resolve the issue. It rectifies a mistake made decades ago by the Army Corps in its original advice to Riverbend.

Ironically, just six days before the LOMR became final, FEMA sent Yamhill County a letter of potential violation. It seems FEMA discovered the discrepancy when the county submitted the letter designed to rectify it, and as one arm of the agency was addressing it by moving the floodway boundary, another was addressing it by processing a potential violation letter.

As it turns out, the Superstorm Sandy apparently delayed the warning notice about seven months, placing the warning and revision on a near-collision course.

The warning notice was lost in the process until landfill neighbor and leading expansion opponent Ramsey McPhillips contacted FEMA, then in the midst of a protest hunger strike, to inquire about it. That set the wheels in motion again, according to Mark Riebau, chief of the Floodplain Management & Insurance Branch in Bothell, Wash.

McPhillips said even he was surprised, but encouraged, to hear an admission of something he’d known all along — the landfill next door edges into the floodway. He was also surprised to learn the county had not, however, been officially warned of the potential violation.

Riebau said the call alerted his office to the fact that the warning hadn’t been sent. Even though the timing was such that the issue was about to be resolved, he said, the agency followed through on the violation track as well.

That baffled and frustrated county officials.

Commissioner Mary Stern said, “I think we all learned during Hurricane Katrina that the left hand doesn’t always talk to the right hand at FEMA. I was disappointed to learn about the history of the flood maps, and that FEMA failed to include corrections into the maps.

“It’s discouraging and frustrating to see that bureaucracy ‘inaction.’ I use that as one word, not two.”

County Planning Director Mike Brandt shared her frustration.

“Did anybody do anything wrong?” he asked. “No, emphatically no.” At least nobody other than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, when it provided bad advice in 1981.

Brandt said he felt like he was “in a federal twilight zone.”

He said FEMA has done several flood plain audits in the county, one as recent as 2011. “Although FEMA alerted us to residences, barns and even a small pile of gravel in the floodway, Riverbend Landfill, which can be seen from outer space, was never mentioned,” he said.

Jackie Lang of Waste Management agreed with that sentiment. She said it all boils down to a technical discrepancy that has already been resolved.

“We see this as inconsequential, in light of the work that has already been completed to address these issues,” she said. “This appears to be a situation where one group within a federal agency is acting without knowledge of what others in the agency were doing.

“There is actually no issue here. The map of revision has been in motion for months and is effective as of May 9.”

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