The sandbags lining 26 miles of the Green River through Tukwila, Kent and Auburn should be gone by the end of the year.

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For three years, sandbags stretched along 26 miles of Green River in Tukwila, Kent and Auburn have been called a lot of things: an eyesore, an obstruction on the Green River Trail, and part of a more than $31 million flood-prevention project that local county and city officials thought the Federal Emergency Management Agency would pay for, but didn’t.

By the end of the year, city officials for all three cities say they’ll be called something new: gone.

As soon as next month, contractors for the city of Kent will begin removing the 1 ½-ton bags. Public-works officials for Kent, Tukwila and Auburn say they plan to have them all removed and the Green River Trail — a popular route for bicyclists and joggers — reopened by the end of the year.

“Finally we will have our Green River Trail back,” said Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, in a statement. “I will be so glad to see Kent stop looking like a war zone.”

The sandbags were initially installed in 2009 as a measure to prevent flooding while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired a weakened embankment at the Howard Hanson Dam, a measure declared no longer necessary in September.

City and council officials thought FEMA would reimburse them for the disaster-prevention project, but the federal agency refused. FEMA rejected a second appeal for funding in May, leading the King County Flood Control District Board to agree last month to pay 75 percent of the estimated $5.8 million cost to remove the sandbags.

Kent and Tukwila have secured contractor bids below their estimates and will likely pay less than expected if no removal problems arise, said Tom Bean, a King County flood-plain engineer.

Kent will be paying about $900,000 to remove its portion, according to a city news release, and Tukwila about $400,000, according to Bob Giberson, that city’s public-works director.

The one cost variable comes from the potential need for repairs of the Green River Trail, which may have been damaged by the sandbags.

“There might be cracks in the trail, maybe there’s chuckholes,” said Michelle Wilmot, a spokeswoman for the Kent mayor’s office. “It’s hard to know until the bags are removed.”

The first bags to be removed will be between South 200th Street and South 212th Street and a portion of the Horseshoe Bend Levee, said Kelly Peterson, Kent’s manager for the project.

City officials say they don’t yet know how the sandbags will be reused or disposed of. The material inside is low-grade fill and not marketable as premium sand, making it unsuitable for sanding streets, gardens, sandboxes, or constructing sidewalks and patios. AGR Contracting will deliver Kent’s fill material to Cedar Grove Composting, which will evaluate it for its best use.

But that isn’t Peterson’s foremost concern about the sandbag removal.

“We also need to be mindful of the location of these bags,” she said in a statement. “Accidentally breaking or spilling them into the river could violate state and federal laws, causing even more expensive cleanup costs and potential lawsuits for damaging endangered fish habitat.”

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com