Aberdeen decides to fund its share of flood warning system

The Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday completely reversed course and authorized payment to fund an early warning system put in place by the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority.

Just a few months ago, the city mulled pulling out of the Flood Authority, a 12-member group consisting of local governments in Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties. Then, last month, the council voted to stay in the Flood Authority, but city officials said they had no plans to contribute funds to the early warning system, which has been controversial because it is internet-based and requires anyone who needs warning information to remember a password and log in.

Even City Attorney Eric Nelson, who recently told the council that it could be illegal to pay for the system and the city could be at risk to a finding from the State Auditor should it pay for the system without a new interlocal agreement in place, has changed his mind on the issue.

Nelson cited the current interlocal agreement that formed the Flood Authority that says that “any funds required from the Basin Governments to cover funding requirements or to cover costs for projects developed as a result of research and development to this agreement will be shared as agreed by the Basin Governments as set forth in future Interlocal Agreements.”

Nelson said on Wednesday that he still does not believe the city should contribute long-term for anything spent by the Flood Authority, calling his initial assessment of the situation “absolutely accurate.”

“I am trying to look out for my client here,” Nelson said. “But, that said, I had a conversation with a deputy prosecutor in Lewis County and believe that a small expenditure could be allowed so long as progress is made to work on a new interlocal agreement over the next year.”

The Early Warning System, consisting of gauges and a password-protected website, costs $53,585, which is split between the 12 jurisdictions of the Flood Authority.

Aberdeen Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe says he still has questions as to the value of the Flood Authority to the residents of Aberdeen. However, the Flood Authority recently authorized $121,600 in state funds to do geotechnical analysis of possible improvements to dikes around the city of Aberdeen.

“In a way, we have to pay to play,” Bledsoe said. “That’s the message I received from some members of the Flood Authority when I met with them recently.”

Bledsoe said that if the city didn’t contribute to the early warning system, it may put in jeopardy future state grant funds that the Flood Authority may oversee.

Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who is vice-chairwoman of the Flood Authority, told The Chronicle of Centralia that it’s only fair that Aberdeen contribute.

“The notion has been introduced that they can stay a member of the flood authority without paying their share,” Valenzuela said in a Nov. 1 story. “I don’t agree that you can be a member, and have the benefits, but not pay any of the fees.”