A farm-to-plate dinner later this month will benefit the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance, members of which are still reeling from a recent federal court ruling that the U.S. Corps of Engineers followed proper protocol in allowing Puget Sound Energy to renovate its hydroelectric dam on the Snoqualmie River.
"To tell you the truth, I'm in a state of shock," organic farmer Erick Haakenson said last week, three days after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision.
Haakenson believed the Corps' admission that it failed to conduct impact studies before permitting the 2005 project would force the Court to order mitigation measures for down-river flooding linked to the dam renovation.
"We're not calling for a dam to end all flooding," Haakenson said. "We can live with historic levels of flooding. But in the years since they finished the project, everyone has seen the velocity of the river go up. We've had erosion on our farms, we've had all kind of sand dumped on our farms."
While the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance doesn't dispute the need to alleviate flooding in the more populous city of Snoqualmie, the organization maintains the project as approved poses a threat to the valley's rich agricultural heritage. The Alliance has filed a motion to reconsider. "We plan to go the distance," Haakenson says.
The fertile river valley was once home to a half-dozen productive dairy farms, including Carnation, one of the world's biggest dairies in the early 20th century. Yet when Haakenson 25 years ago started farming, he was the only organic farmer in Snoqualmie Valley.
"Now there are 50 of us," he says. "So it's happening. But as the flooding increases, a lot of young farmers are saying 'do we want to settle here, or just go on to Oregon or California?'"
In addition to flooding, Haakenson says valley farms are threatened by encroaching development. Although he has trouble imagining wealthy home buyers wanting to live in close proximity to a working dairy - "there are going to be smells" - he doubts anything will halt construction plans.
"It's the last pristine valley in King County, and if we develop it, then the last one's gone," he says. "We're really concerned that our rural character be preserved."
The preservation group has acquired important allies in its fight: Haakenson credits King County officials with listening to farmers' concerns, and praises Seattle restaurant leaders for offering their support. John Howie and The Herbfarm's Chris Weber have signed on to cook at the July 28 "Taste of the Valley" fundraiser.
Alliance members accept they can't turn back the clock, Haakenson says.
"The valley is going to be different," he says. "But we want to maintain the historic flavor of growing food for people to eat."