Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dammed If You Do ...

Given that this story is unspooling right at the bottom of the hill beneath Grubb Street, I'm going to stay with it. And the story is the partial failure of the Hanson Dam and the resulting risk of flooding along the Green River valley this winter, which includes Auburn, Kent, and Renton.

Here's the short version - the ground around the dam is seeping water, weakening the dam. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a patch, but in the meantime they cannot hold as much water back, which means that in case of a major rainstorm, they will have to pass the water along, flooding the valley.

Last time we checked in, I applauded the local leaders for recommending flood insurance, and getting it sooner as opposed to later. Now simultaneous to that, a lot of insurance companies have determined the risk in the valley was too great (meaning they would have to pay out if something went wrong), and both stopped writing business policies and tried to terminate existing policies.

Hmm. Insurance companies trying to retroactively cancel policies once they realize they may have to pay out. That seems vaguely familiar. If only there was some sort of option, perhaps a public one, that people could turn to. We could call it a "public option". Yeah, that would work.

Actually, as far as flood insurance, there is such an option from the government. That's the good news. The bad news is that while it will help, it won't cover enough for the businesses that have shown up in droves in the valley over the past forty years or so, which have a lot of expensive and generally immobile equipment. The whole story, with a particular eye towards the effects on the business in the valley, is found here in the Seattle Times. And while it states that most of the residences would be OK with government insurance (And if you have flood insurance, double-check - regular home-owners insurance doesn't cover this type of flooding), a lot of the immobile resources of the businesses, large and small, outstrip that coverage.

I expect the various leaders in the valley, from local to national, are trying to address this, and there will likely be more to this as we move forward. The article notes that the advanced warning provided for this potential flood has contributed to the insurance companies bailing. If the dam just broke suddenly, they wouldn't have the chance to get to higher financial ground in time. How fortunate for them.

On an unrelated note, there is another matter that's crossed my mind. The Hanson Dam is in the Tacoma watershed. If they can't hold as much water back, what kind of challenge does that present to them? Has that subject been brought up yet?

Yeah, this is going to be ongoing.

More later,