Aberdeen will stay in Flood Authority, but won’t pay

The Aberdeen City Council voted on Wednesday to continue the city’s participation in the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, but city officials say they have no plans to contribute funds for an early warning system in light of Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe’s skepticism that it has any benefit for local residents.

Aberdeen City Attorney Eric Nelson told council members and Bledsoe that the city has no obligation to pay any bills that come its way from either the Flood Authority or Lewis County, which serves as the fiscal agent for the group.

Bledsoe also reversed his recommendation that the city leave the group after realizing that flood-control grants come directly with contract agreements from the state Office of Financial Management, not the Flood Authority. The Flood Authority authorized $121,600 to do geotechnical analysis of possible improvements to dikes around the city of Aberdeen. Bledsoe said he didn’t want the group to have any oversight powers over the city.

Basically, Bledsoe said, the city can remain a member of the group, reap the benefits from the grants, but ignore them otherwise. They don’t even have to send an official to their meetings, but could just be a member in name only, he noted.

“There’s a possibility of other grant funds in the next biennium available for construction on certain flood control projects … and if we were not a member of the Flood Authority, we would not be in the group that would be considered for funding,” Bledsoe told the council. “Our departure from the Flood Authority could work a hardship on other upstream communities because it could make the Legislature less likely to look at the project being considered on an area-wide basis.”

Bledsoe noted that although the technical merits to leave the Flood Authority remain, “there are other factors that are political that I think should take precedent over some of the technical issues.”

Aberdeen City Council President Kathi Hoder and Councilman Frank Gordon, the city’s alternate on the Flood Authority board, had been lobbying for the council to leave the group. Following Bledsoe’s change of heart, they both changed their minds, as well.

“I’ll like to explain to my fellow City Council members and the city of Aberdeen and anybody else that was here last week that this is not a flip flop for Kathi Hoder, this is a somersault,” Hoder said. “We look like we’ve flip flopped, fell down, stood back up and are still fighting. And I do feel like I’ve made a somersault on this issue. I truly do. But my somersault will be made only at no cost to my citizens of the city of Aberdeen.”

The Flood Authority had sent bills to pay for the annual maintenance costs of an early warning system and website to each of the 12 jurisdictions in Grays Harbor, Lewis and Thurston counties. The Flood Authority wanted $53,585 a year, with the full cost due next year and about $27,000 due to cover the rest of this year. Aberdeen’s share would have been $3,391 this year and another $6,902 next year.

Bledsoe says the city should not pay any bills from the Flood Authority. Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson says he has no plans to budget for the payments next year.

And Hoder emphasized that the city has its own budget challenges without needing to just give away the city’s money.

“We have our own priorities,” Hoder said. “The Flood Authority’s expenses are not one of them.”