Authority advocates for flood projects

OLYMPIA — Members of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority on Thursday urged the Capital Budget Committee to support their proposed, $28-million portfolio of flood mitigation projects.

The governor’s group — which includes representatives from the Flood Authority and the Chehalis Tribe — presented the proposal to Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this month for consideration in her outgoing capital budget. The governor has pledged to dedicate money, as long as the group agrees on a basin-wide plan to reduce flood damages.

“There is broad support amongst all basin governments for (the governor’s group) recommendations,” Flood Authority facilitator Jim Kramer said on Thursday.

Taken together, the group’s proposed actions represent a serious investment in short-term flood damage reduction and long-term preparation for future decisions, Kramer said.

Their proposal has five key components: Determining the feasibility of a water retention structure in conjunction with I-5 improvements; Continuing a series of small-scale, local projects that reduce flood damage, some of which were already started with Jobs Now Act money; Improving fish habitats and floodplain function; Reducing the cost of repetitive damage to residents through a strategic program of buyouts and improvements to homes; And maintaining the early warning system.

Much of the work is based on the Chehalis River Basin Alternatives Report, a document published in July that was authored by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington and Washington State University, with input from basin stakeholders.

With more than 800 flood studies completed over the last century, the alternatives report — and the governor’s group plan — took a different tact, Kramer said.

“The real hope with this report … (was) not to propose another study, but instead to propose the actions that should be taken,” he said.

Keith Phillips, policy adviser to Gov. Gregoire, told the Capital Budget Committee on Thursday that the governor is dedicated to flood mitigation efforts.

Gov. Gregoire first witnessed the 2007 flood from a helicopter, where she observed high waters and damage to homes and business, Phillips said.

“And then she landed. She saw the people, their broken homes; what they held in their arms and what they held in their eyes,” he said. “It was at that point that she committed herself to a different outcome.

“It wasn’t just the freeway and the local economy. It was about helping people in the basin step up to future floods,” he said.

With help from the Ruckelshaus Center, various factions in the basin have come together to create a shared vision for the future, according to Phillips.

“When the governor heard the group’s recommendations, she was impressed,” he said. “She has often said that in order to make real progress on water, all the key interests in the basin need to step up and move forward together.”

“That was really her challenge, and, in this case, her hope fulfilled,” he said.

The governor has not yet made a final decision on how much money she will provide in her 2013-15 capital budget, which will be released in mid-December.