Dave Cornelius’s strategy is simple. If the Skagit River tops its banks and his 36-year-old Mount Vernon bookstore starts taking on water, his flood plan will read like “A River Runs Through It.”
“I’ll just open the back door and let the water run right through the front,” he said.
His business sits about 5 feet below the river in flood plagued downtown Mount Vernon. For decades the people here have had to constantly prepare for the worst with every serious storm. Volunteers and city workers fill 150,000 sandbags for each flood. It’s been a band aid on a problem gushing with potential disaster.
“You have to be kind of stoic about it,” said Cornelius. “There’s nothing you can do. You just have to hope it will work out.”
Now, though, hope is on the way in the form of a concrete wall being built along the river’s east bank. Its purpose is to push back flood waters and protect downtown businesses. Phase 1 near the Division Street Bridge is complete. Phase 2 is currently being built, and Phase 3 won’t begin construction until 2014.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be happy when it’s all done,” said Cornelius.
The new flood wall is being built to withstand a 100-year flood, with four more feet of cushion. It will protect downtown, but some wonder where all that water that would’ve gone downtown will one day end up.
Blade Chevrolet was under 3 feet of water during back to back floods in the 1990s. Workers had to move millions of dollars in cars and RVs that were at risk of being ruined. The lot is just north of the newly protected properties, and right along the river.
“Where’s the water gonna go?” asked owner Mike Blade. “Is it gonna come here or go somewhere else? We always have to be prepared for it possibly coming here.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said the priority is to protect the historic downtown. As for elsewhere, don’t put away those sandbags just yet.
“The west side is always a concern. Now, we can deploy our sandbagging on that side and other places for more protection. This allows us to shift our focus to other areas that need it,” said Boudreau.