The allocation of $70 million in funding approved by the Washington Legislature for flood control projects, like the West Segment North Shore Levee in Hoquiam, has been paused while the state Office of Chehalis Basin board continues discussions about its 2021-23 spending plan.
At its July 1 board meeting, “Amid many thoughtful questions, listening, and deliberation … the board was unable to approve a spending plan for 2021-23 that allocates the $70 million appropriated by the state legislature to the Office of Chehalis Basin for the Chehalis Basin Strategy,” read a statement Monday.
What does this mean? “Given that the board could not reach agreement by the start of the 2021-23 biennium (July 1), the Chehalis Basin Strategy will pause all new projects, actions, and analyses planned for the new legislative appropriation until an agreement is reached,” read the statement.
The Office of Chehalis Basin “will continue to operate, but at a scaled-down level focused primarily on continuing its role supporting the board.”
The impact of the board’s inability to approve a spending blueprint is measurable.
“Within their budget there is an allocation of $4 million for the West Segment in Hoquiam,” said Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay. “The delay will impact the start of that project, but not the North Shore Levee that spans Aberdeen and Hoquiam.”
The North Shore Levee would provide a flood wall from the west shore of the Wishkah River to the east shore of the Hoquiam River. The West Segment in Hoquiam would go west from where the North Shore Levee left off, from the west shore of the Hoquiam River west to just beyond Hoquiam High School. Both combined would remove hundreds of properties from federal flood insurance requirements.
Shay said there are other projects the Office of Chehalis Basin budget may fund, including a pump station in Aberdeen and two pump stations in Hoquiam, “depending on the level of funding they allocated to the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority’s local projects.
Right now, it is expected that the Flood Authority will receive about $4 million, that would provide enough funding to design those three pump stations so that they are shovel ready.”
For all other projects, “Partner agencies are working to determine which field monitoring, and other studies and analysis, can take place as planned this summer, and which must wait,” according to the Office of Chehalis Basin statement. “Projects that are currently underway will continue until their already-allocated funding expires. At that point, these projects will be paused until a spending plan is approved.”
A large portion of the funding discussion centered around a flood retention dam on the Chehalis River in Lewis County, south of Doty. The controversial project has drawn opposition from tribes and environmental groups.
At its July 1 meeting, “The board supported an approach for developing comprehensive, Basin-wide flood damage reduction strategies,” read the statement. “A new team could be created and tasked with developing a roadmap of prioritized projects (that may or may not include the proposed flood protection dam) to reduce flood damage, and could oversee the implementation of these strategies as part of the long-term Chehalis Basin Strategy.”
The board discussed the development of a second team to come up with a “proposed portfolio of actions that will not include a dam — and would evaluate its potential to reduce flood damage, as well as its socioeconomic and environmental impacts,” according to the statement.