Chehalis Work Group meets with Inslee on flooding

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday affirmed his support for flood mitigation efforts in the Chehalis River Basin and asked the six members of the Chehalis Work Group to continue in their roles as policy makers and liaisons to Olympia for the next two years.

Karen Valenzuela, a Thurston County commissioner and member of the Chehalis Work Group, described the hourlong meeting as “a great success.”

Discussion at the meeting focused on the recently improved relationships between various basin stakeholders, including the Chehalis Tribe.

“Previously, we had been unable to come to an agreement on a suite of activities to benefit people, ecosystems and fish,” Valenzuela said. “He expressed gratitude for our work. That the tribe was at the table, that was significant to him.”

Inslee, who included the Work Group’s requested $28.2 million in his capital budget, again pledged financial support.

In November, the group requested that funding for a multi-pronged flood mitigation plan, including $9.2 million for the study and design of a dam and other long-term projects to improve Interstate 5; $10.7 million for local flood protection projects; $4.4 million for projects that reduce flooding while benefitting fish; $1.75 million for reducing damage to residences and other structures in the floodplain; $1.2 million for operation of the basin program and for project management; and $950,000 for state agency technical assistance and project permitting.

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire recommended, in her outgoing 2013-2015 capital budget, that Inslee allocate the requested money.

At Thursday’s meeting, however, the governor warned that the work group’s money could be in jeopardy should the Senate’s proposed budget be adopted.

“He explained how the Senate version could have the impact of skinnying down the capital budget, which could threaten our request,” Valenzuela said.

“But (the Senate’s) is just one of three budgets in play,” she added. “He wasn’t saying to worry — it’s too early for that — just to be aware.”

The governor, a Democrat, on Wednesday denounced the conservative-dominant Senate’s budget.

According to Valenzuela, Inslee appears to be as committed to solving flooding as Gregoire.

“I think he is happy to carry on the work of his predecessor,” she said. “He’s very familiar with the devastation of the ‘07 flood, followed so quickly by the ‘09 flood.”

Flood Authority Facilitator Jim Kramer also described the meeting as successful.

“The governor was extremely supportive of the group’s work,” Kramer said, “and appreciated being thanked for including money for the whole project in his capital budget.”

Vickie Raines, the Flood Authority chairwoman; Karen Valenzuela, the vice chair of the Flood Authority; J. Vander Stoep, an alternate to the Flood Authority; David Burnett, the chair of the Chehalis Tribe; Jay Gordon, the head of the Washington Dairy Farmers Association; and Keith Phillips, an adviser to the governor, were appointed last year by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire to develop policy and pitch their proposals to the Governor’s Office and the Office of Financial Management. To provide continuity, and to most effectively lobby for the requested money, the Chehalis Work Group asked to remain intact through April.

Prior to the April 4 meeting, it was not clear whether Gov. Inslee would keep the group intact or appoint new members.

The governor and the Work Group did not address a recent letter from the Quinault Indian Nation in which President Fawn Sharp expressed opposition to state funding for the Work Group’s flood mitigation proposal, according to Valenzuela.

Providing the basin with the requested $28 million would “severely and adversely affect our ability to exercise our treaty-protected rights,” Sharp wrote in a letter sent to the governor earlier this year.

Basin flood relief should not rely on projects that sacrifice natural resource to benefit “a few property owners in the Chehalis Basin,” she added in the letter.