Flood Authority starts spending its budget on projects

The Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority on Thursday voted to allocate just short of $1 million dollars for two projects in Montesano and Aberdeen. It heard briefings, but did not move on two other projects, including a project to protect Mary’s River Lumber on the Chehalis River in Montesano.

The Legislature has allocated $28.2 million to the authority, which encompasses parts of Grays Harbor, Lewis and Thurston counties, in its latest budget.

In its meeting at Aberdeen City Hall, the authority approved spending $180,000 for the installation of an ecology block wall around the southern end of Montesano’s wastewater treatment plant and $500,000 of the $2.62 million allocated for Wishkah Road flood abatement north of Aberdeen, Chairwoman Vickie Raines confirmed. The half million will be used to fund road elevation in an area that floods often so emergency vehicles can reach it.

Near Mary’s River Lumber, the Chehalis River is rapidly cutting through the area, creating silt deposits and flood danger for the mill, which is set to rebuild after a fire destroyed part of the sawmill operation in 2012.

A long-term option discussed was the installation of a sheet pile wall, which would be driven through asphalt down into the ground almost 60 feet deep, close to the river’s edge to keep the river from eroding and possibly washing away the mill, still a major employer in Montesano. Mayor Ken Estes urged action, adding the mill probably does not want to contribute to the project.

Though the Legislature currently has set aside $2 million for the project, the sheet pile wall would end up costing around $5.4 million, said consultant Steve Schmitz of Parametrix Engineering.

State Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said there’s a a good chance of getting extra funding.

The authority also heard about a flood and erosion abatement project for the Satsop River flood plain, but did not allocate any money.

Flood warning network

During the meeting, the authority spent about an hour haggling over the $53,585 it costs Flood Authority members to service a network of flood warning devices.

The discussion centered on how to allocate costs for the maintenance to participants in the authority. Currently, members contribute proportionately by population, which annoys larger cities such as Aberdeen, City Councilmember Jim Cook said, because areas such as Ocean Shores and Westport don’t formally chip in. Other members noted that the portion for smaller towns is covered in Grays Harbor County’s allocation.

Raines eventually reined in the discussion noting “we have been handed $28.2 million” and are “in trouble if we can’t figure out how to solve a $55,000 problem,” she said.

Staff member Scott Boettcher presented other options on how to distribute the cost. The consensus of the authority seemed to center on continuing at status quo, while evaluating different ways to distribute the costs.

The next authority meeting will be conducted by telephone conference call in early August.