Kent to request $20M in federal grant to address flooding at Mill Creek

Kent School District and the City of Kent are working together on a federal grant request to address decades of flooding from Mill Creek.

The creek itself is small but has a mighty impact on Mill Creek Middle School, James Street, and the surrounding neighborhood when it overflows with heavy rain and snow melt.

"These last couple years, the flooding has gotten worse and there hasn’t seemed to be a way to deal with the flooding," said Wade Barringer, the district’s deputy superintendent. "Mill Creek students, staff and community members expect flooding on a regular basis every year."

Barringer said the middle school usually sees flooding between November and March each year. The flooding causes safety concerns getting to class and traffic disruptions. He said water sometimes spills inside the middle school, forcing class cancelations or delays at least three to four times each year. The deputy superintendent said this issue disrupts learning.

"It creates a lot of anxiety for students and for staff. There’s always this ‘Are we going to have school? If we are going to have school, is it wet inside the school?" said Barringer. "So, when you come to school, and you’ve been walking through water that can be ankle high, shin high, and then you spend all day long in wet socks and wet shoes, that’s definitely an impact to our students and our staff."

Officials with the City of Kent said flooding issues have been going on for decades.

"I am pretty sure that it was flooding when I went to middle school there," said Kent mayor Dana Ralph.

The mayor said the city and school district have been trying to find a solution to the problem for many years. 

On May 7, Kent City Council approved a plan to dredge the creek this summer, removing years of silt and sediment. Though dredging will allow the creek more capacity, Ralph said it won’t be enough to stop the school’s athletic field, streets, and sidewalks from going underwater. 

"Everything related to storm water is really expensive. So, we’re dealing with the creek, we’re dealing with the salmon-bearing creek, storm water retention. All of those kinds of things take a lot of engineering," said Ralph.

City leaders are now seeking help at the federal level to address the ongoing flooding issues. Barringer explained the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened grant opportunities for storm water climate resiliency. 

He said Kent is the perfect candidate for the EPA’s grant. 

Since the fall of 2023, Barringer said the district and city have been meeting weekly to prepare a grant request to the EPA worth $20 million to address the flooding issues of Mill Creek.

"What that would allow us to do is to be able to create storm water and flood storage on site. So, any parking lot, and any field would have flood storage underneath or retention ponds sitting next to it. So, every part of the Mill Creek School property that we’re able to, would have some sort of storm water and flood water storage," explained Barringer.

If approved, the deputy superintendent said the storage would hold tens of thousands of cubic feet of water that usually end up on the field and in the parking lots. Without the funds, Barringer said the flooding problems would continue, as the district and city don’t have the ability to fix them on their own.

"In a lot of cases, water covers the entire field, which is not accessible to students for months at a time, because once it’s been sitting in water for several weeks it takes a long time for the water to go away. So, it creates mud. Also, it’s difficult for buses and staff to get from parking lots because a lot of the asphalt in the area that students walk to get into the school is covered with water," said Barringer.

The mayor said if the grant request is approved, the funds would also keep surrounding spaces dry for potential development.

"That whole area has been underdeveloped because of the flooding issues for so long," said Ralph. "Everything to the south—we want to be able to develop that into space that is usually for the community, whether it be retail or housing, a variety of things. It’s right next to the heavy rail station, Sounder is right there, the school is right there, main thoroughfares, we’ve got one of our largest parks. There are so many things that come together that make that whole block very important to our community. And so, if we can improve that, then that means new services come, all of those kinds of things, and it’s a win, win," said Ralph.

The district, city, community groups and EPA consultants meet weekly to discuss the plan and their proposal. Ralph said they hope to submit their grant request to the EPA in the next few months. 

"The reality is the purpose of this grant is to serve underserved communities," said Ralph. "This grant was meant for us and for this community."