Flood Authority lobbies for a place in the budget

OLYMPIA — Now is the time to address flooding, members of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority told legislators here Monday.

Sitting before a meeting of the Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee, Vickie Raines, the Flood Authority chairwoman, J. Vander Stoep, an alternate to the Flood Authority, David Burnett, the chairman of the Chehalis tribe and Jay Gordon, the head of the Washington Dairy Farmers Association, spoke about the devastating impact of the 2007 flood.

The group — in a presentation aimed at opening both hearts and wallets — showed images of Lewis and Grays Harbor counties under water and told stories of the local businesses and farms destroyed and of the substance abuse, heart attacks and divorce that have plagued flood victims.

“The people going through this are tough, but it takes a toll. There’s consequences to this,” Vander Stoep told the committee chaired by 19th Legislative District Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond.

“It’s going to happen again,” Vander Stoep said. “The question is what are we going to do?”

The answer, according to the Flood Authority, is to adopt their proposed mitigation plan, a five-prong, multi-million portfolio of projects intended to ease the impacts of flooding both short- and long-term. The plan was allotted $28 million in former-Gov. Chris Gregoire’s outgoing 2013-2015 Capital Budget, but for the Chehalis Basin to realize any of that money, funding for the mitigation plan must remain in the Capital Budget as it wends its way through the Legislature.

The flood group takes on steep financial challenges. Currently, the Legislature faces a budget shortfall estimated to be at least $2 billion, and legislators who must — according to the state Supreme Court — amply fund education while looking to cut funding in other areas wherever possible.

Still, the Flood Authority members will fight for the mitigation plan to remain wholly intact.

“What we’ve come up with is an integrated plan. … Each of these probably (should) not be viewed as a separate component,” Chehalis Tribe Chair David Burnett said.

Long-term flooding solutions, ways to improve salmon habitats and short-term projects to address “acute issues” all are woven into the plan, according to Burnett.

“As we look at this program,” he said, “it should be taken in its entirety.”

Gregoire’s proposed budget allots $3 billion to new projects in the next biennium; funding the former governor whittled down from $6 billion in requests, according to Senior Budget Assistant Sandi Triggs.