Senate budget targets protecting the Harbor from flooding

Local officials, excited about the prospect for future funds for the Aberdeen-Hoquiam Flood Protection Project, commented about the Washington state Legislature’s proposed capital budget for the 2023-2025 biennium.

The proposed capital budget, which will not be official until the final budget is adopted by the House and Senate and then signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, includes $18.5 million in funding for the Aberdeen-Hoquiam Flood Protection Project. The flood project includes Aberdeen’s North Shore Levee, and Hoquiam’s West segment of the structure.

The good news for the two Grays Harbor cities is there should be more funds sent for the overall flood project between 2025-2027, according to the language of the Senate capital budget.

“The appropriation is provided solely as state grant assistance to the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam to match federal funding for the Aberdeen-Hoquiam Flood Protection project, North Shore Levee and North Shore Levee West segments,” the Senate capital budget states. “The Legislature intends to provide funds in the amount of $35.5 million over the course of the 2023-2025 and 2025-2027 fiscal biennia in grant funds for construction of the North Shore Levee project.”

According to Brian Shay, Hoquiam’s city administrator, the current legislative session is scheduled to adjourn April 23, which means the budget “likely” won’t be official until near that date. Before that, the House capital budget will come out this Monday, and then a budget hearing will follow on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday afternoon, Shay spoke about the impending positive news about the $35.5 million and how it’s spread out through the next few years.

“It’s totally fine and awesome,” Shay said. “It’s a total home run.”

Ruth Clemens, Aberdeen’s city administrator, also spoke about the state’s impending investment at Wednesday night’s Aberdeen City Council meeting. Clemens, along with Shay and Lynnette Buffington, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor Inc., testified before the Senate Ways and Means Capital Budget Committee on Monday, March 20.

“They have recommended that the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam receive $18.5 million over a $35.5 million request for the levee project,” Clemens said. “They have also promised to the next biennium that the cities will receive $17 million for the rest of the funding for those projects. So that’s a big win for both of our cities and a big step in the right direction for the levee projects.”

In January 2022, the cities were reminded about the threat four environmental factors — rain, high tides, rapid snow melt and tidal surge — have in Western Washington.

“With extreme high tides and intense rain, the cities have long struggled with frequent flooding and damage to the community,” a joint news release from the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam states. “Residents and businesses alike face financial burdens through steep flood insurance premiums totaling a minimum of $2.2 million annually.”

The flood project will cover 4.1 miles for the North Shore Levee, and 3.8 miles for the North Shore Levee West segment. The project will protect 5,100 properties, 1,354 businesses and 1,292 jobs from future flooding, the release states.

Once the levee provides stability to the local economy and eliminates “burdensome” flood insurance requirements, it is estimated the levee construction will generate $10 million in state sales tax and will “kickstart” economic growth.

The total project will cost $160.5 million and so far, local officials have worked to secure $125 million, with $99.5 million of that in federal funding.

“This is tremendous news for the citizens of Aberdeen and Hoquiam,” Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave said. “We are thankful to all of the senators and representatives who advocated and supported our vision of investing in the resilience of our communities. We hope these levees will bring financial relief to our residents.”

Hoquiam Mayor Ben Winkelman, who owns property in downtown Hoquiam, did not understate the impact the levees will make through the two biggest cities in Grays Harbor County.

“The flood levees will be a game changer for the communities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, who are at a major disadvantage compared to most of our state with so many of our properties within the flood zone,” Winkelman said. “When the project is complete, our cities will see significant economic development from existing home and building owners who can now renovate their properties and vacant landowners who can now develop their properties without the restrictions of being in a flood zone.”

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) has worked to get Grays Harbor County funding for the levees. Kilmer called progress on the project a “win-win.”

“It means the community can address flooding and avoid future property damage,” Kilmer said. “It also means we can enable future investments in affordable housing and economic development in the region by pulling some of these properties out of the flood plain. And it means we won’t see so much money leaving the community in the form of flood insurance payments. I’m thrilled to see our state move forward with the necessary cost share of the more than $99 million in federal dollars I’ve helped secure for the project. This is a major step toward completing this project for people in Grays Harbor County.”

The partnership between Aberdeen and Hoquiam to solve the joint flood problems started after flooding and landslides in January 2015, according to Shay. A little more than eight years later, he’s quite glad to talk about what the partnership has meant.

“We would not be where we are today without the teamwork and partnerships built between federal, state and local elected officials and staff,” Shay said. “We developed a strategic plan in 2016 and with hard work and dedication by everyone involved, we are on the cusp of implementing that plan. We truly appreciate the support of our senators and representatives within the 19th and 24th districts, who championed our request before the Legislature.”

Clemens hasn’t been working in Aberdeen long, and fortunately hasn’t experienced flooding during the winter of 2022-2023. But she’s not new to the idea of flooding having worked in Thurston County before she started in Aberdeen. She talked about the level of investment from the state and what it means for the cities.

“An investment by the Legislature of $35.5 million will give the cities the confidence that both the North Shore Levee and the North Shore Levee West segments will be bid for construction as soon as final design and all permitting is completed, expected by early 2025,” Clemens said. “Our team will have the financial resources coupled with our commitment to bring this project to the finish line. This is an exciting time for our communities!”

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at