House unveils construction budget with $17M allocated to Harbor

Major Quinault Indian Nation requests for land purchase and wellness center omitted

Leaders from the Washington House of Representatives released on Monday their proposed version of the 2024 supplemental capital budget, flagging $17 million for projects in Grays Harbor County.

That’s significantly less for local projects than the Senate proposed a few days ago, mostly due to the omission of a $25 million request of the Quinault Indian Nation for a land purchase on the reservation.

The proposed construction budget, introduced by Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) who chairs the House budget committee, and Rep. Peter Abbarno (R-Centralia), authorizes spending of an additional $1.3 billion with investments in clean energy, salmon recovery, affordable housing, early learning, and behavioral health facilities, among others.

The Legislature will have until the end of the short session — March 7 — to settle on a final supplemental budget.

Funding for this year’s oversized supplemental budget comes from nearly $700 million in Climate Commitment Act revenue generated from the state’s carbon auctions, more than $300 million from the Common School Construction account. Due to pending ballot initiatives that could repeal those sources, the house’s budget doesn’t make capital gains tax appropriations through the schools account further than November of 2024 and notes many of CCA appropriations would lapse if the act were voted down this fall.

Climate funding would pay for a few local projects for which the house’s budget matched senate suggestions from Feb. 15. Those include a $2.5 community forest grant for Hoquiam to purchase 400 acres of forest land for recreation and revenue generation.

Assuming the project gains state funding, Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay said new trails could be available to the public this summer.

The House’s budget also aligns with the Senate on funding for salmon recovery projects, including a pair of $2 million grants for work in Grays Harbor County: culvert replacement on Damon Creek near the Humptulips River, and a restoration project at the headwaters of Schafer Creek, which drains into the West Fork Satsop River from the mountains east of Wynoochee Lake.

The House budget devotes a total of $160 million in construction funding for small schools through the state’s small district modernization program, including a $5.2 million grant for North Beach School District, which was also backed by the Senate.

Tyler Muench, a lobbyist with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the state education agency was “particularly appreciative” of the funding for small schools and classroom air quality improvement. However, Muench said OSPI was “deeply concerned” about the House’s proposal to reallocate funding from the School Construction Assistance Program to other parts of the budget.

The House’s budget summary states that demand for construction assistance funding, which schools use to supplement construction projects after passing a bond or levy, dropped by nearly $300 million during the current biennium.

Muench said the proposal would turn the program from being dependent on “competitive grant program with no firm commitment to fund projects regardless of district need or bond and levy election results.”

Quinault and $25M

Legislators have fewer than three weeks to hammer out the final budget before this year’s short session ends March 7. Along with the debate over school funding, dozens of millions of dollars are on the line for Quinault Indian Nation projects.

After the Senate’s budget last week appropriated $25 million to the tribe for a forest land purchase on the reservation, and nearly $8 million for a Quinault Wellness Center expansion, the House’s budget left out the huge land purchase grant and allocated just $824,000 to the expansion project.

With help from the state, the tribe is seeking to restore part of its reservation by purchasing 11,000 acres of private timberlands owned by the Anderson and Middleton company for a total cost of $65 million.

The lands fell into private hands because of the 1887 General Allotment Act, or the Dawes Act, which broke the reservation into a checkerboard pattern of ownership in 80 acre lots, many of which were heavily logged.

In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the tribe would commit to reducing commercial timber harvest, restoring habitat and advancing carbon sequestration, enough to pull 3 million tons of carbon from the air over the next 20 years, or the equivalent of taking approximately 33,000 cars off U.S. roads, according to the tribe.

“The state funding is critical to closing the deal,” Quinault Indian Nation President Guy Capoeman said in testimony before the budget committee Monday morning. “With this funding we would be protecting sensitive rivers, habitat and big game, and using trees for carbon sequestration. On behalf of my people, and for the benefit of this state, please include this $25 million in your final capital budget.”

The tribe also hopes to raise appropriations for a Quinault Wellness Center expansion that involves the purchase of an administration building to free up space for more patients at its behavioral health treatment facility in Aberdeen, which has reached capacity of 250. Kristeen Mowitch, a Quinault Tribal Councilwoman, said the tribe is seeking about $8 million in order to break ground in the next six months and increase capacity to serve 600 people.

“While we appreciate the partial support, we are hopeful you will consider funding the full request,” Mowitch said.

The Quinault expansion was one of 20 behavioral health facilities to receive funding appropriations from the house budget, a total of $83 million in projects. The list includes $3 million for a renovation of the Chehalis Wellness Center.

This year’s supplemental budget could also be the final piece of the puzzle in funding the renovation of Coastal Community Action Program’s headquarters building in downtown Aberdeen. A House budget allocation of about $500,000, which wasn’t included in the Senate, could contribute to a renovation about $17 million in the making since a fire burned the housing agency’s operations at the old armory building in 2018.

“We’re hoping this last bit of money infusion will help us complete the project in a timely manner,” said Craig Dublanko, CEO of Coastal Community Action Program.

Other Grays Harbor-specific projects include about $500,000 apiece for “Montesano Child Care” and utility relocation projects through the public utility district.

The house also earmarked $150 million from the state’s housing trust fund, and while no local projects were specified, $30 million of that money is labeled for “unsheltered homelessness” — anything from shelters to permanent supportive housing — and another $43 million for competitive grants across the state.

That money could be on the table for the city of Aberdeen as it seeks funding to purchase a homeless shelter facility in the area.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.