As state and federal regulators continue their environmental reviews of the proposed Chehalis River flood control dam, backers of the project are starting work on a plan to mitigate the effects that will be outlined in those reviews.
“What we’d like to do is to start working on some things that we know are going to be impacts,” said Erik Martin, administrator of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District. “We know what a lot of those are. We want to start creating mitigations that people can agree on during the process. … We want to be primed and ready to go and apply for permits if the decision from (Environmental Impact Statement) is favorable.”
In other words, the district believes it can predict many of the dam’s impacts that will be outlined in the study, and it wants to lay the groundwork for a speedy process by working with stakeholders — including tribes and state agencies — to agree on a plan to offset them even before the study is released.
“The EIS process does not identify mitigations, it identifies impacts,” Martin said. “How you deal with those impacts is through mitigating efforts. Many times (environmental studies) are done first and then once the impacts are identified, then you start developing what mitigations you have for those impacts. What we’d like to do is to start working on some things that we know are going to be impacts and start creating mitigations that people can agree on during the process. That hopefully will shorten the timeframe to get permits and begin construction on the project.”
Engineer Betsy Dillin said the district is working to meet with stakeholders, including the Chehalis and Quinault tribes, and state agencies such as the Department of Ecology and Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those groups have spoken favorably on conducting a mitigation plan, but want the district to take the lead in bringing together their concerns and suggestions, Martin said. Backers are hopeful the mitigation plan will be complete when regulators finish their environmental surveys in 2020.
“In the end, if we don’t get buy-in from the tribes and the agencies, the mitigation’s not going to be adequate to get the permits,” he said. “It’s on us to go out and do that work. … We’d like to have some buy-in established with the final EIS. That’s the idea, is that maybe this is a year-long effort.”
The district will seek funding from the state’s Office of the Chehalis Basin to conduct the mitigation plan.
The long-discussed project would construct a dam near Pe Ell designed to alleviate some of the flooding that has devastated Lewis County in past years. The facility would allow the river to run as normal the vast majority of the time, but during flood events, gates would be placed to create a temporary reservoir and prevent some of the water from surging downstream.
It’s expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but backers point to the billion-dollar economic damages estimated from the 2007 flood that closed I-5 for days.
Before starting the environmental review last year, Ecology said that the project “is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment.” Areas identified for further study included water resources and quality, geology, wetlands, fish and wildlife, tribal and cultural resources, along with many others.