The Office of the Chehalis Basin board is going to explore other options for flood reduction and mitigation in the Chehalis Basin in addition to a proposed dam near Pe Ell, the board decided in a meeting on Thursday.
Board chair and member of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority Vickie Raines opened Thursday morning’s board meeting by proposing the group look for a “plan B” in the wake of the Washington state Department of Ecology’s release of the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) done on the project.
She added that the draft EIS made it clear that the water retention option wasn’t completely reviewed.
“There was no mitigation included (in the original EIS), so the evaluation only looked at negative impacts, I think that’s very important to note,” Raines said during the meeting. “I’m proposing that we take another serious look at a plan B to water retention and to put the options for aquatic species and water quality mitigation back up on the table.”
The proposal comes a few weeks after the Quinault Indian Nation announced its official opposition to the initial proposal for a dam on the Chehalis River. Director of the Office of the Chehalis Basin Andrea McNamara Doyle thanked Vice President of the Quinault Indian Nation Tyson Johnston for “capturing the board’s attention.”
“We’re pretty good at a staff level at generating a lot of information and a lot of different kinds of analysis and data,” McNamara Doyle said. “But it’s been increasingly clear to me and I think you (Raines) raise a couple of very important ideas and points about how we can further focus the board’s attention and engagement.”
Lewis County Commissioner and member of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority Edna Fund agreed with Raines’ proposal to look at additional options, adding that she “could not have said it better.”
Steve Malloch, a member of the board from the Office of the Governor, said part of the reason why the board is in its current situation is because they haven’t found “a magic bullet” to solve all aspects of flooding in the Chehalis Basin.
“It seems to me as though we’ve got, I don’t know, depending on how you look at it, 10 years, 40 years, worth of ideas about how to proceed,” Malloch said. “I suspect that the dam is not a magic bullet either, as the EIS points out, so I think that what we probably need to do is look at the options that have been developed, think about the options that have, for whatever reason, were never really examined, and think about putting together packages of these various options.”
He continued by saying that for every approach to the project that is explored, there are going to be aspects of the plan that are strengths and components that are perceived as weaknesses.
Creating an additional group of potential options, according to Malloch, was a step that he agrees needs to be explored.
“We’re not going to be able to have a fully fleshed out, fully identified, fully examined proposal even by the end of the summer, or September,” Malloch said. “I think we could put together (packages) that oughta get looked at and some options that oughta get looked at.”
While describing his initial reservations surrounding the dam, Johnston said the Quinault Indian Nation sent a letter to the Department of Ecology requesting that the flood mitigation efforts be “basin-wide” before the first EIS was released.
“We’re asking again, for the second time, that be something that is considered,” Johnston said. “I’m not asking for a full level of analysis mitigation and all of that, but it has to be more than a cursory review in my eyes.”
Johnston added one of the biggest red flags of the project was the statement that a plan for mitigation wasn’t currently included, but would be added later and that it wasn’t currently known if it would be “technically feasible or economically practical.”
“That statement alone is really troubling to me,” Johnston said. “Again, we’ll be submitting a letter that kind of outlines what we view our option B would be and what that will look like.”
During the meeting, board members spoke out in support of Raines’ plan, with no opposition heard.
McNamara Doyle said the next step of assembling members of the board who are interested in assisting in evaluating other options would need to happen quickly.
“I’m going to recommend that we try to get something scheduled in the next week or two,” McNamara Doyle said.
As for any sort of setbacks that may come with looking for potential options for a plan B, McNamara Doyle said she doesn’t necessarily see any possibly stemming from the new approach.
Rather, she thinks it could give the board a heightened sense of focus on any plans for flood damage reduction.
“Depending on what the board members come up with for ideas that they want explored in more detail, it could affect the scope of the work or the level of detail that we’re going to be able to produce on the full range of options,” McNamara Doyle said. “But it doesn’t change the other analysis that we’re also planning to do for the long term strategy assessment.”