KING TIDE TURNED FLOOD TIDE – When the conditions are right in January, the Swinomish Channel flows over its banks and through sewer pipes to flood the road and the Conner Fish Park below the Rainbow Bridge. High tide was 11.5 feet at 9:19 a.m. Friday Jan. 7, almost as high as Jan. 5’s 11.8 feet. 	                                                                          – Photo by Ken Stern
KING TIDE TURNED FLOOD TIDE – When the conditions are right in January, the Swinomish Channel flows over its banks and through sewer pipes to flood the road and the Conner Fish Park below the Rainbow Bridge. High tide was 11.5 feet at 9:19 a.m. Friday Jan. 7, almost as high as Jan. 5’s 11.8 feet. – Photo by Ken Stern

Winter officially started Dec. 21 – except on the calendar used by Town of La Conner Public Works Director Brian Lease. 

Lease and his staff began winterizing in October. 

No one can fault their timing, either, given the rash of snowstorms and tidal flooding conditions they have had to deal with the past couple weeks. 

“We prepped everything in October, from filling sandbags to getting our equipment ready,” Lease told the Weekly News during a rare break Friday. 

It was three months ago, for instance, that Public Works received enough sand to cover street surfaces and fill bags for placement at affected shoreline areas should the town face a snowy winter coupled with seasonal king tides. 

By doing so, he and his staff were better able to keep pace with their regular workload – such as drainage maintenance and facilities repairs – while also removing snow from and applying sand to the town’s streets and pedestrian walkways, placing sandbags along channel banks and then cleaning up afterward the week following Christmas. 

Already this winter they have had to hit the reset button as snow and ice returned last week. 

“I always get kind of tense and nervous when October rolls around,” Lease said. “That means winter is coming.” 

And this year it has done so in full force. Snowfall starting Dec. 25 blanketed much of western Washington. 

La Conner hasn’t been spared. 

Heavy snowfall, icy roads and high winds have combined to cause school closures and extended power outages. 

Each October his staff map out strategies for worst case winter scenarios while also planning for more predictable high tides on Swinomish Channel, he noted. 

“It’s easy to think of it in terms of snow removal,” Lease said, “but we’re doing other things, too.” 

Still, when the snow hits, its removal becomes the department’s chief mission. 

“We put together a snow and ice removal policy,” Lease said. “Our priority is to keep the main arterials open and make sure emergency vehicles and school buses can get through. That’s our main goal.” 

Another is to minimize impact upon residents. 

“After we plow the streets,” said Lease, “we’ll often have to go back and remove the piles from in front of driveways.” 

If there’s a saving grace for the Town of La Conner, the latest round of snowy weather occurred just after Jan. 1, only days into a new annual budget period. It is still too early to determine how big a bite the severe conditions have taken out of the department’s current budget. But more such major weather events could force the department at some point to seek a budget amendment, Lease said. 

He remains mindful – and wary – that, as in 2020, La Conner is often beset with significant February snowfall. 

Should that happen again, though, he and Mayor Ramon Hayes vow they will be ready for whatever has to be done. 

“They’re always up to the task,” Hayes said. “We’re blessed to have them.”