Flood Authority OKs first tangible projects

For the first time in the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority’s five-year existence, the organization is undertaking actual, on-the-ground projects to prevent flooding. Until now the group has mostly been concerned with planning and strategy. First on the list is a levee around the Centralia Airport and a project to clean out ditches near Adna.

The Flood Authority has typically used its funding to work on early warning systems, rain and stream gauges and on consultants to write studies on a potential dam at the headwaters of the Chehalis River.

But, earlier this year, the state Legislature’s capital budget included $5 million for specific flood control projects.

The Flood Authority approved the projects during a special teleconference on Thursday.

The Flood Authority will spend $244,145 to clean out and restore 7,500 feet of existing drainage areas along the Willapa Rails to Trails system in the Adna area. Also approved is nearly $1.24 million to expand the inside width of the existing levee without increasing levee elevation.

Besides Flood Authority permission, the state is also mandating the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation sign off on the projects.

County Commissioner Terry Willis said Friday that the Flood Authority will meet again next week to specifically address a potential flood control project on Wishkah Road, located just outside the city limits of Aberdeen. The road is frequently flooded, even in minor rain storms.

On Thursday, Willis said she took state Reps. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, to check out the site. The proposal would cover $42,000 for a consultant to do the design work to see how the flooding situation could be fixed.

Approving the flood projects at Adna and Centralia was done over the objections of the Quinault Indian Nation.

Ed Johnstone, the fisheries policy spokesperson for the Quinaults, sent a letter to the Flood Authority on Wednesday asking for the group to hold off on approving the projects.

Johnstone criticized the Flood Authority for not doing more research to see how the projects would affect the river downstream and not soliciting input from the Quinaults. He said the improvements “are likely to adversely impact the Nation’s federally- protected treaty rights.”

Johnstone’s letter stated there was an “utter failure” to look at the project’s impacts, noting that the projects “would incrementally change the physical characteristics of the basin and negatively affect habitat and productivity of resources of interest to the Quinault Indian Nation.”

“Despite the overtures that were made to me during my attendance at the workshop in June to work cooperatively with the Quinault Indian Nation, the interests of the Quinault Nation are once again being largely ignored,” he wrote.

Willis said that the Flood Authority did talk about the Quinault Nation’s concerns at length, but decided that the best avenue to handle those concerns was to have the Governor’s Office conduct a government-to-government consultation with the Quinaults.