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Flood victims vent during emotional community meeting with government officials

NOOKSACK, Wash. — Flood victims gathered at Nooksack High School yesterday, November 24th, for an over 3-hour community meeting with city, county and state government staff and elected officials to receive information and ask questions.

The meeting was moderated by Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Deputy Director John Gargett and began with introductions of the government representatives (at 0:23:15).

Officials in attendance (timestamp of where in the video to locate their comments):

  • Washington District 1 US Rep. Suzan DelBene (virtual attendance via video conference) (at 0:02:20)
  • Washington District 42 Rep. Sharon Shewmake (at 2:47:20)
  • Washington District 42 Rep. Alicia Rule (at 2:34:20)
  • Washington State Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle (at 0:48:25)
  • Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu (at 0:17:30)
  • Whatcom County Council Member Tyler Byrd
  • Whatcom County Council Member Kathy Kershner
  • Whatcom County Council Member Ben Elenbaas 
  • Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo (at 0:30:00)
  • Sumas Mayor Kyle Christensen (at 0:34:05)
  • Everson Mayor John Perry (at 0:32:20)
  • Nooksack Mayor Marshall Judy (at 0:33:00)
  • Nooksack Mayor elect Kevin Hester (at 0:33:20)
  • Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis (at 0:40:10)
  • Whatcom County Public Works River and Flood Division Manager Paula Harris (at 1:22:45)
  • Whatcom County Public Works Director Jon Hutchings (at 1:19:30)
  • Whatcom County Planning & Development Director Mark Personius (at 1:05:35)
  • Whatcom County Health Department Director Erika Lautenbach (at 1:11:30)

At 1:16:00 the format turned to taking questions from the in-person audience. The following are paraphrased highlights.

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  • Why hasn’t the Governor issued an emergency declaration so FEMA can provide disaster relief?
    • A state emergency declaration was issued November 16th but it usually takes a longer than expected for FEMA assistance to arrive
  • Why isn’t river sediment and gravel being dredged as it was decades ago, before we began having these serious floods?
    • Jon Hutchings and Paula Harris addressed river management questions at 1:19:50.
  • Ron Groen of Cowden Gravel & Ready Mix tells of when they used to haul dozens of feet of gravel from the river at 1:29:45.
  • Where were/are the National Guard and Coast Guard as has been seen at other disaster sites?
    • Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett and Washington State EM Director Robert Ezelle addressed the questions at 1:36:55.
  • AJ Hoekema, a member of the National Guard, pointed out at 1:41:45 that the National Guard Special Forces Group’s first mission is search and rescue. The lack of response may have been the result of an improperly worded request for assistance.
  • What about outlying communities without government representation to request assistance, such as Deming, Maple Falls, etc?
    • Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett addressed that concern at 1:49:15.
  • What of the naturally occurring asbestos in the Sumas River and Swift Creek?
    • Health Department Director Erika Lautenbach and Washington State EM Director Robert Ezelle responded at 1:55:50
  • We are in crisis; we do not need political correctness (1:58:30).
  • How and where do we apply for assistance that can be received now, not next month or later (2:02:05)?
    • Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett said at 2:02:15 that Washington State Department of Social & Health Services had just announced they are setting up to provide immediate cash and food assistance by either Friday or Monday.
  • What is the estimate for repairing the Everson bridge?
    • Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett said at 2:05:30 that the repairs needed to reopen State Route 9 are a higher priority and will be addressed first. At 2:07:00, Public Works Director Jon Hutchings added that there are 62 other county roads with damage, 10 are substantially damaged.
    • River and Flood Division Manager Paula Davis detailed levee repairs needed at 2:08:55
  • Why are homes permitted to be built in the flood plain knowing the likelihood of flooding events?
    • Planning & Development Director Mark Personius addressed the question at 2:15:25.
  • A 71-year resident who has lived in Sumas, Everson and Nooksack detailed at 2:24:10 his experience in receiving assistance after getting Canadian government officials involved.
  • What are Everson homeowners to do as winter weather arrives and they lack insulation?
    • Everson Mayor John Perry explained options at 2:51:45 and County Executive Director Satpal Sidhu added information about additional resources at 2:56:20.
  • Will those that are outside the defined flood zone but were impacted by the flooding, now be able to get flood insurance?
    • Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett responded at 2:58:10.
  • Will people who have already paid for emergency county building permits get them reimbursed?
    • Yes.

NOTE: River and Flood Division Manager Paula Davis pointed out at 2:09:40 a little-known ability to request an additional $30,000 if covered by flood insurance coverage when there is substantial damage.

Whatcom County DEM Deputy Director John Gargett provided a wrap-up 3:15:30 and concluded the meeting.

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