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Tide, rains create a water park

It is not unusual to see Freeland Park flooded during the winter months. Stormwater runoff and heavy rain combine with high tides to flood the playground area and south parking lot with at least a foot of water that recedes with the tide. - Gayle Saran
It is not unusual to see Freeland Park flooded during the winter months. Stormwater runoff and heavy rain combine with high tides to flood the playground area and south parking lot with at least a foot of water that recedes with the tide.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Freeland Park resembled a lake more than a playground late this week, thanks to the combination of high tides, rain and wind.

During the winter, the public beach spot on Holmes Harbor resembles a water park at times. A combination of rain, high tides and runoff water pouring in from a culvert draining downtown Freeland puts the park under water several times a year. The runoff is from downtown Freeland and a nearby senior housing area that hooked into the storm sewer about a year ago.

About half the park will be under a foot or so of water during peak tides between 7 and 10 a.m. for the next week if rain continues to fall in the Freeland area. Coastal flooding is typically a result of storm surge, wind-driven waves, and heavy rainfall that occur here during the winter.

Floodwaters make the park unusable at certain times and unbearably muddy during others.

For these reasons, stormwater improvements are on the drawing board in Island County Public Works Department. But taming Mother Nature is going to take a couple years due to an extensive permit process.

"The effort to get the project done is taking longer because of the number of permits involved," said Phil Cohen, the surface water manager for Island County.

Cohen said this week approval from state and federal agencies will be required before park users see an end to winter flooding. A drainage system that will keep the park dry is expected to be completed in 2004.

Several entities will have a say in the final engineering plan for the park drainage system, including Washington State Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The problem at Freeland Park is nothing new.

"Historically it's always been that way," said Jack Taylor, the county's maintenance supervisor.

"At certain times of the year, when you have all the factors in place, high tides, winds and rain the low lying areas flood," Taylor said.

Taylor says development certainly has added to the situation, but some flooding occurred even prior to the addition of more businesses in Freeland.

Flooding occurs when a tide gate at the end of Freeland's drainage culvert -- which is located near the Freeland Park beach -- closes. When high tides coincide with heavy rains, runoff from downtown Freeland backs up behind the gate and into the park.

Once the tide recedes, the gate opens and allows the runoff to flow into the harbor.

But with the gate closed, the ditches running along Stewart Street fill up, and water laps at the shoulders on the road.

Several homes adjacent to the park end up with flooded yards during the peak tides. This flooding can be a problem for septic systems, but according to Island County Health officials, drainfields can recover from this heavy saturation.

"Residents with squishy drainfields should conserve water usage," said Kathleen Parvin, an environmental health specialist with the county. "If your drainfield is saturated you probably don't want to do 10 loads of laundry. Give it time to dry out. It will recover."

Flooded septic tanks are another story.

"If people suspect their septic tank is under water Parvin says they should contact the county's health department immediately."

The septic tank and drainfield for the park's restroom are located in a nearby hillside to protect against flooding.

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