‘One storm away from disaster?’

High tides and strong gusts are in the forecast for this weekend, which might be a recipe for disaster in one South Whidbey community.

Diking District 1 Commissioner Thomas Kraft said his district has taken some precautionary measures to avoid flooding in the Sunlight Beach area, but there’s a lot more to be done.

“There’s a big gap between the progress we’ve had and the progress we need,” Kraft said. “And that’s a big concern.”

The dike that protects the area, which includes approximately 200 properties, was built in 1914. The old infrastructure had been reinforced by sand, held in place by wooden groynes, Kraft said. Over time, however, wood has deteriorated and isn’t keeping the soft armor from eroding away.

The district commissioners are worried that waves in a strong storm could undercut and breach the dike, he said.

“Water would run all the way to Highway 525 if the dike broke,” Kraft said.

Any fixes to the structure require permits and approval from a number of agencies. As a temporary solution, the Army Corps of Engineers suggested and approved the placement of sandbags in front of the dike. Some residents have expressed concern about the plastic covering on the bags breaking loose and polluting the water.

“These (bags) are ill-suited for the job,” Kraft said. “But these are what we were given and were allowed to use.”

The service provider Winter Creek is regularly traveling to the beach to clean stray pieces of plastic that drifted on the beach, Kraft said.

To create a longterm solution, the district has hired a geocoastal engineering firm to perform a study and biological analysis on possible fixes that could be made to the century-old infrastructure. The district has been trying to get permits to do maintenance on the dike for years with little luck.

Kraft said he and other commissioners are working with the Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, regional tribes and Island County Planning.

The recent king tide didn’t result in a catastrophic event because the wind was relatively calm, Kraft said. He’s hoping the sandbags will suffice for the remainder of winter.

“You never know if you’re just one storm away from a disaster,” he said.

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