Flood Authority may shift millions to Mary’s River Lumber project

The Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority will vote today on whether to shift some $4 million currently allocated to three other projects to fully fund protection of the shoreline around Mary’s River Lumber on the Chehalis River in Montesano.

The project, which could total $6 million, will help protect some 120 jobs at the sawmill, set to rebuild since a fire destroyed part of that operation in 2012.

By diverting the money, the project can be completed.

Flood Authority Chairwoman Vickie Raines proposes to move the money because pre-construction work has been done and the project is “shovel ready.” The goal is to begin work by November, she said, adding that the project isn’t dependent on good weather. She stressed that the other projects are still high priorities, but this one is further along in terms of being ready for construction, and it has the element of protecting jobs.

“The funds are proposed to be transferred to the Montesano project because even though it was well over the estimate, it is ready to be constructed and the other projects are not. The other projects are still priorities,” the agenda for today’s meeting notes. The three projects that could shift funding are located in Cosmopolis, the Wishkah Road and Satsop River floodplain.

“…(T)here is still funding for engineering design and permits to proceed as planned for the three other projects,” the agenda notes.

If the Mary’s River Lumber project gets a thumbs up, it will be the biggest expenditure authorized so far of $28.2 million approved last session by the state Legislature. The Chehalis River is rapidly cutting through the area, creating silt deposits and flood danger for the mill.

The project includes final design, permitting and construction of a flood water passage as well as shoreline protection by a sheet pile wall, which can be driven down through asphalt nearly 60 feet deep in the ground close to the river’s edge to keep the banks from eroding and water from washing away the mill.

The move will likely please at least one Flood Authority representative, Mayor Ken Estes, who has argued for immediate action on the project protecting one of Montesano’s major employers. The proposal assumes an additional $400,000 “for fill removal (and) habitat enhancement,” the agenda says. Votes by the authority must be unanimous.

Raines, who is also mayor of Cosmopolis, proposes to divert $1.5 million of $2.25 million in Mill Creek Dam improvements from her own town. She consulted with members of the city council, who approved, she said, since the project won’t be ready for construction until 2015. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“We are not scrapping” the money from any of the projects permanently, although Raines acknowledged some members may think part of their allocation is being taken. Since many of those projects are in earlier stages, the plan is to replace funding through a supplemental allocation or in the next biennium, she added.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, and Reps. Brian Blake and Steve Tharinger, all Democrats, committed to advocate for funding needed to complete the three projects, the agenda says.

The second diversion, would move $1.95 million from Wishkah Road’s flood levee, and leave $690,000 for design, and land acquisition “if and when (the acreage) becomes available” for sale, Raines said. Money already approved for Wishkah road elevation may have to be repealed, she said. The sum of $510,000, targeted for work on Satsop River floodplain restoration, would also be shifted, leaving $450,000 originally allocated in 2012.

Also on the agenda is authorization for the state to initiate contracts for a wastewater treatment plant flood prevention dike in Pe Ell and funding for a Bucoda levee project. Cost allocation for flood warning system maintenance, a hot topic at July’s meeting, is also on today’s to do list.

The Flood Authority encompasses parts of Grays Harbor, Lewis and Thurston counties. Last month, the authority also green lighted a smaller project to add a $180,000 ecology block wall to the southern end of the wastewater treatment plant in Montesano. The authority meets in person or by phone the third Thursday of the month.