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FEMA awards post-fire grant to Antoine Creek culvert replacement project

The aftermath of an early morning thunderstorm that rolled through the lower Lake Chelan area in 2015 and sparked the 90,000-acre Chelan Complex Fire is still being felt five years later.

Specifically, in the Antoine Creek Basin north of Lake Chelan the burn scar was significant enough that since the wildfire, the discharge and velocity of surface water flows increased substantially. A creek that typically slows to a trickle during the summer, Antoine now flows year-round.

Spring runoff events in the Antoine Creek Basin have been so severe since the Chelan Complex Fire that on more than one occasion the water has left the creek bed and covered the roadway, causing severe road damages and even landlocking some property owners until waters receded. Three culverts that run adjacent to Antoine Creek Road today can no longer convey these increased water flows.

But a solution is in the works. This spring, the Chelan County Flood Control Zone District (FCZD) received word that it was awarded $180,000 from a federal post-fire grant program that supports wildfire recovery. The money will be used this year to up size those three culverts, helping to minimize future post-fire flooding.

The overall project will cost about $240,000. FCZD funds will be used along with the federal grant.

“We now know that the impacts of wildfires can last for years,” said Eric Pierson, FCZD administrator. “This FEMA grant program is an opportunity to mitigate some of these post-fire impacts that we would not have budgeted for, nor have had the funds.”

The Hazard Mitigation Grant is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The grant program is available for only those areas that receive a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) declaration, as Chelan County did after the Chelan Complex Fires. Projects that benefit wildfire-impacted areas are a top priority of the program.

“More stable mitigation funding is the key to help communities become more resilient,” said David Maurstad, FEMA Deputy Associate Administrator for Mitigation and Insurance, in a press release. “Our goal as an agency and as emergency managers is to help save lives and increase the number of properties protected against future fires.”

The Antoine Creek Basin is located in the northeastern corner of Chelan County. Antoine Creek Road runs 3.25 miles up the canyon, where it then goes into Okanogan County. The shrub-steppe habitat includes forested sections and steep canyon walls. The lower end of the basin is a flood plain where years ago farmers planted their orchards.

Along with protecting private property and the county roadway, the project would help secure an emergency route out of the canyon. If the road is washed out, homeowners in the upper end of the basin have up to a three-hour delay on U.S. Forest Service roads to get to nearby Chelan. These Forest Service roads are not passable for parts of the year, including winter and early spring.

The culvert replacement project will upsize the culverts to 8-foot-by3-foot box culverts, which will allow for increased water flows and debris to pass during larger runoff events – minimizing post-fire flooding frequency. Construction is expected to start summer 2020 and be completed by fall 2020.

Last Updated: 06/10/2020 12:02 PM

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