Aberdeen, Hoquiam lobbyists working to have levee, rail projects construction-ready by 2023

A couple of big-ticket projects — the Aberdeen/Hoquiam flood protection levee and the east Aberdeen rail separation project — gained traction, if not actual funding, in the 2021 legislative session.

Monday, representatives from the lobbying firm hired by Hoquiam and Aberdeen to push the Legislature for funding for those projects told the Hoquiam City Council their plan is to have both of those projects ready for construction by the time the next biennium’s state budget is up for passage in 2023.

“Our goal by the end of this session was for both to be shovel-ready by the beginning of the 2023-25 biennium,” said Briahna Murray, part of the lobbying team from Olympia firm Gordon Thomas Honeywell. This was her 15th session, spent exclusively lobbying for cities and counties for project funding. “By the time we get to the end of the 2023 fiscal year, make sure both are construction-ready so we can go after construction funds.”

Murray’s associate, Marian Dacca, said, “We had a very successful session elevating these projects,” and noted the just under $9 million included in the 2021 state capital budget for the Fry Creek pump station, “a critical element of the North Shore Levee project.”

The Fry Creek pump station will greatly improve stormwater control and include fish screens to protect juvenile salmon.

“We are on schedule for design work to be complete this summer,” said Aberdeen City Engineer Kris Koski. “The schedule currently calls for the construction contract to be advertised for bids in early 2022 and for construction to begin in 2022. There is significant work to be performed in the water, which must be done during a ‘fish window’ during the summer.”

Work is ongoing to secure $4 million to get the West Segment North Shore Levee — an extension of the planned North Shore Levee that would protect the properties west of the Hoquiam River that are not included in the North Shore Levee — ready for construction, including final design and right-of-way acquisition.

That funding would come from the state Office of the Chehalis Basin, which was appropriated $70 million this legislative session for its flood prevention and habitat efforts. Murray said the entity met late last week to go over its list of proposals, and a decision on its allocations, including the $4 million request for the west segment of the levee, is expected in June. Between now and then, she will be strengthening support for the funding from legislators and others.

“I feel our chances (of getting the $4 million) are very high,” said Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay, who added both cities are also asking the Office of the Chehalis Basin for funding for three more pump station projects.

East Aberdeen rail

While not funded in the 2021 budget, the east Aberdeen rail separation project, which would incorporate an overpass and roundabout to separate vehicle and rail traffic through often-congested east Aberdeen, got the attention of budget drafters.

The project in both the Senate and House versions of the transportation budget was a line item of more than $50 million, which would fully fund the project. However, the state was unable to adopt a transportation revenue package to fund the list of new projects statewide. If and when a revenue package is adopted, possibly in a special session or in the 2022 session, Murray said she and her team would continue to press for full funding.

“The goal is secure funding for the project in any funding package,” said Murray. “The process is not across the finish line and we’ll continue to work for both cities and for the entire region and make sure it’s included in any final deal.”

“Over the legislative interim we will continue to advocate and elevate these projects,” said Murray. She said part of that will be getting legislative support from outside the area — legislators in the 19th and 24th districts are all firmly and vocally supportive of these projects — from legislators across the state.

“What we really need to do is get statewide investment, beyond the 19th and 24th districts, people who want to invest in the projects,” said Murray. “To do that, we need to bring legislators from around the state to Aberdeen and Hoquiam so they can visualize the projects,” so that in the event of a special session, the rail separation project, for example, “would be front and center.”

Murray and Dacca repeatedly said it was the work of Coastal Caucus legislators from the 19th and 24th districts that shone the spotlight on these local projects.

“All of them had open doors and made regular contact with us, made themselves available knowing we were working on your communities’ priorities,” said Murray.

The firm also has two lobbyists working on the federal level in Congress “on behalf of both communities and lobbying for earmark funds, as well as using political support to elevate grant applications for the two projects,” said Murray.