Samish Island Resilient Access Committee

The Samish Island Resilient Access Committee (SIRAC) is a special committee of the Samish Island Community Center. It was created after the December 27, 2022, tidal flood event to promote the welfare of Samish Island residents.

We have been meeting and discussing the access road issue since the flood event took place to gain a better understanding of the history of Samish Island Road, the dike system, the drainage system, and both short-term and long-term flood risks and consequences associated with tidal flooding. Of particular concern is the stretch of dike protecting Samish Island Rd. between the Island and Dike District #5 along Alice Bay.

Committee members include: Eileen Andersen, Mike Collins, Bill Dewey, Molly Doran (Skagit Land Trust Liaison), Martha Frankel (SICC Board Liaison), Steve Hopley (Chair), Chuck Howell, Dan McShane

King Tide Information from SIRAC

This next winter predicted high tides will be 9.5′ or higher during the periods: Nov 28-Dec 01, Dec 14-18, Dec 26-30, Jan 11-18, Jan 24, and Feb 13-14.

SIRAC members will monitor predicted barometric pressure using the www.barometricpressure.app tool. This tool predicts barometric pressure in Skagit County forward as much as 7 days.

When we see a predicted barometric pressure lower than 29.2 inHg that corresponds in time (within a couple of hours) of a 9.5′ or greater predicted high tide we will post a tide watch notice on Samish Neighbors and on the Samish Island Facebook page about the potential for an extreme high tide event.

We also will display a hurricane storm pennant (red flag with black square) on the lower left-hand corner of the Garden Club sign coming on the Island. If the pressure prediction holds up (predicting pressure out 168 hrs can be iffy), as we get closer to the event, we may follow up with an additional, more dire alert.

Hopefully, this system will at least help folks be better prepared and give time for that last-minute sandbagging in case anybody hasn’t availed themselves of the current preemptive opportunities.

Please bear in mind this prediction business is not an exact science. There will undoubtedly be occasions when we post an alert, and no extreme high tide materializes. More importantly, if we get another super low barometer like we had on Dec 27 or the right combination of wind direction and velocity, it’s anybody’s guess how low a “book” tide will result in flooding. Stuff can happen.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Timeline

Scroll down section by section to see the timeline events more clearly explained.

December 27th, 2022: Samish Island Road flooding; see images. For these images in one PDF, click here.

March 31st, 2023: SIRAC sent a letter to the county commissioners requesting action. View that letter here.

April 8th, 2023: SICC hosted an informational afternoon about NOAA, climate change, tides, and ocean acidification. You can view that presentation here.

April 13th, 2023: County commissioners responded to the SIRAC letter of March 31st. View that response letter here.

May 3rd, 2023: SIRAC sent another letter to the county. View that letter here.

Samish Island Road flooding, December 27, 2022.

Tidewater spilling over the dike and flowing across the road during the flood.

Note the elevation difference between the tide and the flooded area and the erosion of the top of the dike.

Water spilling over a northern section of the dike adjacent to the road.

Water flowing over the shoulder of the road into a deep ditch below the road. The ditch has been overtopped, and saltwater is spreading across fields towards the west and south. The ditch drains to the north to Drainage District #5.

Sandbag patch at overflow location. Note the driftwood log that was blocked by vegetation.

Another spillover location. Note the upper level of the dike has been eroded.

Combination concrete block, gravel, and sandbag patch of eroded dike section.

March 31, 2023, SIRAC letter to county commissioners

To view the original letter and all its exhibits, click here.

March 31, 2023
From: Samish Island Resilient Access Committee
PO Box 268
Bow, WA 98232

To: Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen
Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki
Skagit County Commissioner Peter Browning
Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich

Re: December 27, 2022 Tidal Flood
The Samish Island Resilient Access Committee (SIRAC) is a special committee of the Samish Island Community Center. It was created after the December 27, 2022 tidal flood event to promote the welfare of Samish Island residents. We have been meeting and discussing the access
road issue since the flood event took place to gain a better understanding of the history of Samish Island Rd., the dike system, the drainage system, and both short term and long term flood risks and consequences associated with tidal flooding. Of particular concern is the stretch of dike protecting Samish Island Rd. between the Island and Dike District #5 along Alice Bay. We are writing this letter with action steps we hope the County will take.

We want to thank the County Commissioners for the February 27, 2023 Commissioner Meeting on Samish Island. We greatly appreciate your willingness to meet on Samish Island and the openness of the meeting. We also want to thank the Skagit County employees from Emergency Management, Public Works, Planning and Development, and Public Health for their presentations and perspectives regarding the tidal flood event and all the County participants’ willingness to take questions both during and after the meeting. We found the meeting helpful to our understanding and concerns regarding the County’s planning and response to tidal flooding. We came away from the February 27 meeting knowing that the County has gained a better understanding of tidal surge events after the December 27, 2022 flood, and of how best to address this hazard.

We submit this letter for consideration as a follow-up to the February 27 meeting, based on what we heard from the County and our own understanding and concerns about tidal surge flooding and access to Samish Island. We hope that the County can build on what we learned at that meeting and trust we can add to the positive approaches to these issues.

Post the February meeting, we have two suggestions for short term action by the County and a comment on long term planning. We also would like to provide some background information that may bring more perspective on these issues and the level of concern we have.

Short Term Actions
Current Condition of the Dike Requires Emergency Repair
The deteriorated condition of the dike protecting Samish Island Rd. has been a concern for some time (Exhibit #1; 2004 Cty. Comm. mtg. minutes). The December 27, 2022 flood further degraded the previously identified, and unaddressed, substandard sections of dike. Water flowing over the dike eroded large areas of the dike, thereby lowering large sections of the dike and greatly increasing the risk of severe damage to the road and the frequency and intensity of flooding. The result of the eroded dike top is that water will over-top the dike
at lower water levels than previously. This will result in more frequent and severe floods. Furthermore, the damage to the dike may result in a failure of the dike.

For these reasons, and issues discussed below, we respectfully request that Skagit County take Emergency Action to:
1) Complete an inspection and survey of the Alice Bay dike adjacent to Samish Island Rd.
between Samish Island and Dike District #5;
2) Raise the dike to an elevation of 12.5′ above MLLW where possible;
3) Repair and armor the dike where necessary;
4) Armor the section of dike recently repaired by Skagit Land Trust;
5) Re-commit to repair and maintain the dikes until a long term solution is implemented (Exhibit #4).

There remain several locations where the dike has been eroded that were only temporarily patched, including two locations with sandbags and another location with cement blocks with gravel piles around the blocks. These patches will rapidly degrade (particularly the sand bags) and it is our opinion that this situation should be addressed before next winter and the next period of high tides.

The flooding should not be viewed as a mere periodic inconvenience of water on the roadway. Increased flooding will:
Increase risk to health and welfare of residents due to restriction of access by emergency services.

  • Inevitably result in attempts by residents, desperate to get to work, school, home, etc. to drive through flowing water over the roadway.
  • Result in higher flow rates and deeper flow across the road and road shoulder into the deep ditch leading to severe damage to the road. We observed that the shoulder of the road was eroded from the Dec. 27, 2022 flood.
  • Cause more damage to the dike leading to even more frequent and intense flooding.
  • Inundate hundreds of acres of productive farm fields with salt water. The drainage system requires pumping of water from the low delta fields. The potential flow of water from tidal flooding greatly exceeds the drainage ditch capacity and pump capacity of the system. We estimate that approximately 60 acres of farm fields were inundated during the December 27, 2022 flood. Elevations in the delta area are such that hundreds of acres will become inundated with salt water if dike repairs
    are not made.
  • Result in a tremendous impact to the shellfish farms in Samish Bay. Between Taylor Shellfish, Penn Cove Shellfish, and Samish Gold Seafoods, there are 40-50 people who rely on Samish Island Rd.
    to get to their jobs on the tide flats and in Penn Cove’s (formerly Blau Oyster) processing facility. In addition, all of Penn Cove’s product, produced in Samish Bay, goes to market via Samish Island Rd.

We are greatly appreciative of the Skagit Land Trust for the repairs they made on the dike in consultation with representatives of Dike District #5. We note this volunteer effort and expense and want to acknowledge their contribution. We feel that Skagit County bears primary responsibility for dike repair and maintenance in the area. The long and well documented history of construction, repair, and maintenance by Skagit County of the dikes protecting Samish Island Rd. between Samish Island and Dike District #5 does not support the argument that the County “cannot work on dikes on private property.” Furthermore, Samish Island Rd. in this area has become increasingly vulnerable to high tide events due to land subsidence arising from hydrologic manipulations (road building, diking, and draining). The dikes have become a component of the critical road infrastructure, essential to keeping the road safe for ordinary travel (see Road History, pg. 5 & Elevation Data, pg. 6). The SIRAC is concerned that rigid adherence to a one-size-fits-all hands-off-dikes policy, intended to shield our County from liability, may actually expose Skagitonians to such liability, given the pattern of facts established in our review.

While we appreciate that the County wants to carefully evaluate the situation for a cost effective long-term solution, it was made clear to us at the meeting that the process to complete that evaluation will take at a minimum a few years. The current condition of the dike and the threat that failure of the dike poses to the health and safety of residents, to the road itself, to commercial users of the road, and to hundreds of acres of farmland warrants immediate action.

Tidal Flood Warnings
During the meeting there was discussion regarding the lack of warning. At the meeting one of us noted that during the November 2021 flood a notification of potential closure of the Samish Island Rd. was sent to all cell phones on the Island. This message was received by residents and visitors who could then make informed decisions about staying and/or leaving the Island. We suggest that this notification system could greatly reduce people driving off the Island unaware of the hazard and it could also alert residents or property owners in low lying areas that a flood was taking place or about to take place.

We raise this concern due to what some of the members of the committee observed. We feel fortunate that no vehicles were swept off the road. A high school student driving his younger sister to school had no idea of the situation and turned around after one of our members suggested it was very risky in a small car and that one pickup truck was nearly pushed off the road by the flowing water. We also observed that the shoulder of the road was being actively eroded by the water spilling off the road.

We do appreciate that signs have been provided to our Island fire station; however, with flooding impacting homes on the north shore and a fire taking place elsewhere in the district, reducing the potential for emergency calls during a flood should be a priority that we hope you can pursue, and we encourage you to develop a better warning system for these types of events. We hope that a better warning method and response can be built into the emergency protocols for these types of events.

Long Term Action
We were very encouraged by the willingness of the County, as expressed at the February 27, 2023 meeting, to develop a long term cost effective and sustainable approach to this emerging problem. We remain hopeful that the State of Washington will help support this effort by our local legislators in the 40th District. We hope the County recognizes the potential for a very beneficial collaboration with the Samish Island Community and the Skagit Land Trust and other future conservation owners that will provide a long term resilient access to Samish Island, and at the same time create opportunities for salmon habitat restoration, shellfish protection and
enhancement, wildlife (water fowl), and the protection of the delta farms and shellfish economy.

We appreciate your consideration of these comments and your efforts thus far in understanding the situation.

Respectfully,
Samish Island Resilient Access Committee:
Steve Hopley, Martha Frankel, Mike Collins, Chuck Howell, Dan McShane, Eileen Anderson, Bill Dewey

cc: Grace Kane, Director of Public Works
Bob Dolhanyk, Chief of Emergency Management

April 13th, 2023, county commissioners’ response

​To view the original letter, click here.

April 13, 2023

Samish Island Resilient Access Committee
PO Box 268
Bow, WA 98232

Re: Samish Island Resilient Access Committee (SIRAC) Letter for Consideration

Dear SIRAC Members:
This letter is in response to your correspondence dated March 31, 2023. We understand your concerns and appreciate
the information that you have provided. Skagit County is still in the process of gathering and evaluating information in
consideration of potential options concerning this matter.

We suggest that it would be more appropriate and productive to directly contact and engage representatives of Dike
District No. 5 and the underlying owner of the property upon which the dikes are located (Skagit Land Trust) as the
parties primarily responsible for addressing your concerns.

Further, note that we also respectfully disagree with some factual inaccuracies and statements included in your letter.
We ask that you do not misconstrue our generalized response as agreement with any such statements. Given the
potential for litigation, our legal advisors have advised not expanding further on these inaccuracies.

Please know that the situation with Samish Island Road, specifically, continues to be of priority for the County, and we
sincerely hope that the primarily responsible parties will work to find a solution that addresses your concerns.

Regards,
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Ron Wesen, Lisa Janicki, Peter Browning

May 3rd, 2023, SIRAC response

​To view the original letter, click here.

Date: May 3, 2023

From: Samish Island Resilient Access Committee
PO Box 268
Bow, WA 98232

To: Board of Skagit County Commissioners
1800 Continental Place, Suite 100
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Re: Response to Commissioner Letter
We are heartened to hear that “Skagit County is still in the process of gathering and evaluating information in consideration of potential options concerning this matter.” A primary purpose of our letter was to provide you some additional information as you consider potential options and hope that it is helpful in expediting both short and long term solutions to this urgent situation.

Regarding possible factual inaccuracies in our letter, the SIRAC has taken great care to present as accurate an account as possible based on the information we have gathered. If there are inaccuracies in that information it would be helpful for us to know what those inaccuracies are. The documents included with our March 31st letter complement information relayed in January 2023 to County representatives in response to a request for factual information describing previous dike repair and maintenance work by Skagit County on private property in the subject area. The documents were sourced from various archives on the Skagit County website. We presume those documents to be accurate. If the factual inaccuracies you referred to in your April 13th response to our letter relate to land subsidence or frequency of king tide events we would welcome the opportunity to share the science and empirical data we relied on to reach our conclusions.

Not included in your response were any updates regarding emergency response protocols and changes to the community warning methods for storm tidal surge flood events. This was one of the three concerns we raised in our letter about which we would appreciate information.
Emergency response protocols and community warning methods are particularly vital if dike improvements are not going to be possible.

This is an urgent situation that needs a short-term solution completed over the next 6 months before the threat of king tides returns. We remain a willing and good-faith partner to collaborate on whatever that solution might be and hope that concerns about a “potential for litigation” do not hinder that process.

You suggested in your response that it would be more appropriate and productive for us to reach out to Dike District No. 5 and the property owner. We are doing that on an on-going basis and have found both the Dike District and the property owner to be very helpful. It is our view that it is appropriate and productive to reach out to you as well. We understand that roads and public safety are the County’s responsibility. Therefore the County needs to be a primary participant in those discussions. In our conversations with the property owner and Dike District No. 5, a recurring theme constantly expressed is the vital importance of County participation in this process. The recently announced Climate-Ready Coasts initiative grant to Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve specifically references “increased climate resilience by reducing flood risk for the only road and utility corridor that services the Samish Island community” as part of the overall effort to restore the tidal marsh. We recognize that a strong stakeholder coalition with a unified message is critical in order to fully take advantage of grant funding opportunities the Climate-Ready Coasts initiative presents. We hope that Skagit County will be a full and active member of that coalition.

We are glad to hear you state that this issue is a priority for you. This was reinforced recently as some of us observed that Skagit County Public Works staff were gathering elevation data along the road and the dike on the presumed County easements. If you are willing, we would appreciate it if that elevation data could be shared with us. Having elevation data would be
helpful to us in evaluating the threat posed by future tidal storm surge events.

We remain supportive of your efforts to find cost effective solutions for the County road and the emergency alert system in regards to tidal storm surge events. We would appreciate any updates and would be glad to be supportive in any way we can as you work on solutions to this difficult
problem. Please keep us informed of future Board of County Commissioners meetings and discussions relating to this topic.

Respectfully,
Samish Island Resilient Access Committee: Steve Hopley, Chair, Eileen Andersen, Mike Collins, Bill Dewey, Martha Frankel, Chuck Howell, Dan McShane