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Illahee residents vent frustrations to Dept. of Emergency Management

There wasn’t much time to talk on Tuesday at the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management meeting that was aimed at exploring the pros and cons of the agency’s handling of the December 2007 floods. Those who did talk, however, — all residents of Illahee or areas nearby — didn’t have kind words for county officials on hand.

“So much of this is about our current land use practices. When you allow development on the flood plain, you’re asking for it,” Illahee resident Judith Krigsman said. “Those are taxpayer dollars and they are not working for us.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about what we leave our children.”

Krigsman’s comments were thematic with those members of the public who spoke at the meeting, one of whom appeared to fluster Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown on at least one occasion.

“My question is: why did these failures occur?” Illahee resident Jim Aho asked, in relation to culverts that were overwhelmed by floods. “Just because we were lucky and didn’t have anybody get killed ... doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do lessons learned.”

County officials, especially KCDEM Director Phyllis Mann, did indeed do some fessing up at the meeting. She addressed the county’s need to improve communication between depart-ments and agencies at times of emergency and to improve damage assessments in the aftermath.

But she also strongly emphasized the limitations of county government and her desire to see the public become more proactive in preventing storm damage on their own.

“Their expectation of us has risen so high,” Mann said referring to the public’s view of government. “They want and they demand more from government than what we can give.”

She appealed to members of the public in attendance to exercise more “citizen responsibility” by cleaning out clogged culverts and storm drains during flood events.

She later clarified that people should only clear out culverts in streams that do not bear fish. (Doing so conflicts with state Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations).

Flyers advertising KCDEM’s online Alert, Warning and Public Information Program and a joint project with the American Red Cross called Mapping Your Neighborhood were handed out. The mapping project is being billed as a sort of neighborhood watch program for natural disasters.

She also stressed the unique effects caused by the storm.

“So there’s no misunderstanding, this is not the typical storm that the Northwest experiences,” she said. “To remind you, there are no rivers in Kitsap County — so our creeks turned into rivers.”

The meeting was sparsely attended; about 25 people were on hand, most of whom were local or state officials. Only three members of the public opted to speak.

Public comments were limited to the last 20 minutes or so of the meeting, in which each person who spoke was asked to confine their comments to a three-minute period.

Comments were interspersed with some explanations and answers from county officials.

Those officials included Brown, Mann and several of her staffers and a few other officials from around the county.

Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), who was in attendance, inquired about road repair progress in the county.

The bulk of the meeting consisted of PowerPoint presentations by county and state officials and by one member of the American Red Cross.

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