County, city officials join in listening session
EVERSON – About 100 people gathered at Nooksack Valley High School in Everson Saturday night to air concerns about government responses to flooding throughout Whatcom County since November.
The meeting was hosted by Sen. Simon Sefzik, R-Ferndale, who was appointed to the 42nd District Senate seat Jan. 11, and attended by city and county officials representing the hard-hit north-county region. “You can see the pain on people’s faces,” Sefzik said. “People are hurting, and they need help and answers from government officials. And one of the most important things we can do is listen to what they have to say.”
“At a time like this, partisanship takes a back seat, and all of us in Whatcom County come together as a community,” Sefzik said. “Government agencies at all levels must work together to get the job done. We need to hear from the people who are directly affected and let them tell us what we need to do to help. The people deserve a chance to look us in the eye.”
Though floodwaters have receded and a flood watch for Whatcom County was ended Jan. 13, flood victims face challenges in cleanup and rebuilding damaged homes. Residents of the north county area called for government agencies to take responsibility for removing sediment from streams and waterways that contributed to the problem.
Others said the receding floodwaters have left their properties covered in gravel and silt as deep as four to six feet – a hazard in a region where naturally occurring asbestos contaminates tributaries to the Sumas River. As the rain-soaked region dries, they said they are concerned airborne asbestos will create a hazard to human health.
One woman living between Breckenridge Creek and Kinney Creek reported watching salmon swimming across her yard.
The meeting was attended by local government officials representing the north-county area, including Whatcom County Council members Ben Elenbaas and Kathy Kershner, Everson Mayor John Perry, Nooksack Mayor Kevin Hester, and Sumas Mayor Bruce Bosch. Also attending the meeting were Kyle Christensen of the Whatcom County Sherriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management and Ashley Butenschoen of Whatcom County Long-Term Recovery.
Sefzik said work on legislation to address Whatcom County flooding issues is under way during the 2022 legislative session, which opened two weeks ago. On Friday, Sefzik introduced Senate Bill 5937, which would provide $85 million for local government flood recovery efforts in Whatcom County.
Sefzik also introduced SB 5936, companion to House Bill 2051 introduced by Rep. Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, establishing a $600,000 grant program to provide short-term financial assistance to farmers and ranchers. Though aimed initially at the Whatcom County floods, the program could be extended to agricultural producers in other areas affected by natural disasters such as wildfire or earthquake. State funds would be made available for assistance for payroll, utilities, rent, building repairs and improvements, and other operations and business expenses.