Aberdeen may drop out of Flood Authority

Aberdeen city officials are considering withdrawing from the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, some saying they question the organization’s value after receiving a bill from the group to help pay for annual maintenance costs for an Early Warning System.

Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe is recommending the city resign its membership in the Flood Authority, which was formed by multiple jurisdictions up and down the Chehalis River back in 2008 in direct response to the devastating 2007 storm and related floods.

“It is my feeling that the potential long-term costs of being a member of this organization will outweigh the long-term benefits to the City of Aberdeen,” Bledsoe told Aberdeen City Council members in a Sept. 5 memorandum. “I wish the authority success in finding solutions to the basin’s very complex and difficult problems.”

Aberdeen City Councilman Tim Alstrom, who chairs the city’s Public Works Committee, said he’ll bring the issue up for a possible vote during the Sept. 26 council meeting. The city must officially notify the Flood Authority of their decision and provide a 90-day notification to leave the Flood Authority.

The issue was first aired at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

“The Flood Authority is probably a great thing for those living in the Chehalis-Centralia area,” Council President Kathi Hoder said on the council floor. “I feel in my heart it doesn’t do us a damn bit of good down here. It’s just another something we can join and belong to.”

Councilman Jim Cook has attended the meetings of the Flood Authority since its inception. Cook, who is on a medical leave, has relied on Councilman Frank Gordon as an alternate during the meetings. Hoder said she’s attended meetings, as well.

“Because I did go to a couple of those meetings, I came away thoroughly, 1,000 percent totally frustrated on what they were trying to accomplish because they were just running like a dog chasing its tail in a circle,” Hoder said. “There’s money being spent and I can’t see any benefits for us.”

Mayor ready to bolt

Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson says he agrees that the time may be right to call it quits with the Flood Authority.

“I have complete trust in the judgment of Larry Bledsoe and am not so sure about the benefits … any more with the Flood Authority,” Simpson said.

Gordon said after the meeting he would also support a withdrawal.

“Unless more information comes to me in the next couple of weeks, I have attended several Flood Authority meetings and I’m questioning the value of the organization to the city of Aberdeen,” Gordon said. “I would support a withdrawal.”

Bledsoe said that the city of Aberdeen is seeing no benefit from an Early Warning System of 10 gauges and a website. Bledsoe said the city’s flooding has more to do with tide levels than with river flow and sometimes a combination of the two.

Bledsoe also had questions on the public value of the Early Warning System website contrail.onerain.com. The website address is not memorable, he said. And it requires a password for the public, including him, to access.

“If I’m in an emergency and I don’t know the password, I’m not going to turn to this website,” said Bledsoe, who is in charge of managing flooding emergencies for the city. “I have enough problems remembering my own passwords. How can the public be expected to use this website, which is so inaccessible?”

The annual maintenance costs for the project come to $53,585. Aberdeen’s share based on population is about $6,784. Other jurisdictions on the Harbor have also been given bills and asked to put their share into their annual budgets — $10,598 for the county government, $508 for Cosmopolis, $1,225 for Montesano and $210 for Oakville. The bill for the combined jurisdictions in Lewis County come to more than $15,000. Thurston County and Bucoda are charged a combined $8,320. Hoquiam, Elma, Westport and Ocean Shores are not part of the Flood Authority.

The costs were divided based on population, but Aberdeen City Attorney Eric Nelson says that cost division is not proper and the Flood Authority legally cannot bill any of its jurisdictions.

Nelson looked at the interlocal agreement that created the Flood Authority and says that agreement specifically 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.”

“The city council has no authority to make a payment to the Authority unless a future Interlocal Agreement authorizing the payment has been negotiated and approved by the city council,” Nelson said.

Councilwoman Hoder said the residents of Aberdeen shouldn’t have to pay for something when there’s no value to them.

“When there’s an attachment of a cost to the citizens of Aberdeen, I say let’s get out of the damn thing right now,” Hoder said on the council floor.

Bledsoe noted that out of a $5 million state capital budget expenditure, the Flood Authority authorized $121,600 to do geotechnical analysis of possible improvements to dikes around the city of Aberdeen.

“Most of the money is in Lewis County and will be spent in Lewis County,” Bledsoe said. “I feel they just threw a few bones to us.”

Bledsoe said he is concerned that if the city accepted the funds, the Flood Authority may end up having the final say on what the city does to manage flooding issues within city limits. He’s considering rejecting those funds.

“I feel we can address our problems independently and not collectively with the rest of the group,” Bledsoe told the council.