Camano Island residents face months-long permit process to prepare for storm season

Nearly a year after devastating floods hit Western Washington, some residents on Camano Island are running into roadblocks to rebuild from the damage left behind.

Waves whipping from last November's storms tore down the bulkhead protecting Donna Marshall's home in Utsalady and Marshall says there's not enough time to have a new bulkhead up in time for the winter months.

"We're just weeks away from storm season, and we just couldn't take a chance and stay in the home," said Marshall.

Marshall and her husband moved out of their waterfront property weeks ago, and have temporarily relocated south of Camano Island, in fear of her home flooding again.

She says she applied for a permit to rebuild her bulkhead in Nov. 2021 but only received her permit from Island County in the last week. 

"They just said, 'You're lucky that you got it as quick as you did. It normally takes one to two years,'" said Marshall.

FOX 13 reached out to Island County's Planning Manager but has not heard back.

Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair says actions have been taken to address last year's flooding, writing:

  1. Following the November flood events, I visited and met with constituents at multiple sites on Camano and North Whidbey particularly on the west side of the island.  We discussed options to protect their properties and mitigation recommendations by FEMA to protect their properties in future events.
  2. Because we have had ongoing permitting challenges with our federal partners such as USACE and others, we reached out to the Federal Electeds and invited our federal partners to meet and tour sites on the island. This advocacy is also focused on reasonable approaches to replacing aging stormwater infrastructure including outfalls subject to federal and state permits.  The ongoing advocacy and pressure from myself and other county commissioners in North Puget Sound has also led to increased commitment for flood damage response and mitigation in future funding.
  3. Our public works department has visited multiple flooded sites on Camano.  We have updated our capital improvement plans to include culvert replacements in 2023 and 2024 such as culverts on Utsalady and Olsen Rd, an area of frequent flooding.
  4. Many of the flooding issues in the County are a direct result of extreme weather due to changing climate conditions, increasing king tides, and anticipated sea level rise.  We are working to map those sites most at risk.  That map will help us prioritize mitigation and work to bring anticipated federal funding to our county via the IIJA bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflationary Reduction Act which includes climate mitigation funding.
  5. For a couple of homes with significant damage, inability to make repairs and limited income property owners, I coordinated with the Island County Assessor to review their tax assessments to reduce where possible and link to exemption programs where appropriate.
  6. Finally, Island County was the second county in Washington to pass a Climate Action Resolution with a strong focus on building resiliency for our county.  This climate lens will enable us to prioritize helping property owners pursue voluntary mitigation through programs such as FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities.

"Addressing flooding in Island County will take long-term strategic thinking, strong relationships and collaboration with our State and Federal programs."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they didn't process Marshall's permit, but are reviewing permit applications from Camano Island. 

Their number one recommendation for homeowners is to start the permit process early and not wait until conditions become an emergency, writing in part:

"A permit application can take months to years to process depending on project complexity and other factors including, Endangered Species Act and tribal treaty rights considerations. The state of Washington provides assistance through the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation & Assistance to help homeowners navigate the environmental permitting process. (https://www.oria.wa.gov/)."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has an online permit guidebook to help homeowners navigate the shoring application and says this form can help streamline the process.

Yet, on top of the emotional toll this permit process has been for Donna Marshall, she says it's also been a financial burden.

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"So far 25,000 dollars, and I'll have to pay another 14 to have the blocks removed, another 125 to get a bulkhead built and then having to move," said Marshall.

Marshall is worried about her neighbors who may not have the finances or resources that she had to handle this nearly year-long permit application. She says she wants more communication from the agencies handling these permits.

"I mean we're not building homes here. We're not trying to make a profit. We're just trying to save our home," said Marshall.