Flood Authority will try to convince Aberdeen to stay

Chehalis Basin Flood Authority members hope they can convince the city of Aberdeen to stay on as a member.

Flood Authority Chairwoman Vickie Raines said she plans to attend Aberdeen’s council meeting next week to talk about the recommendation from Aberdeen Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe for his city to withdraw from the Flood Authority. Bledsoe questions the group’s value since its creation in 2008.

“Maybe there’s confusion on what we do and so I think we need to have a good discussion with Aberdeen about that,” said Raines, who is also mayor of Cosmopolis.

Bledsoe’s recommendation drew immediate support from key members of the Aberdeen City Council, as well as from Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson.

The Flood Authority met in Montesano for an all-day meeting on Thursday. Noticeably absent were any officials from Aberdeen. Councilman Jim Cook, who normally represents the city, is on medical leave. His alternate, Councilman Frank Gordon, told The Daily World he was busy and couldn’t attend; and Mayor Simpson said he had other plans.

“I still support Mr. Bledsoe’s recommendation to withdraw but have encouraged Vickie Raines to attend our next meeting,” Simpson said Thursday afternoon.

Raines said she was disappointed because no one from Aberdeen was at the meeting when there were Flood Authority members who had questions for the city.

Bledsoe’s primary objection to the Flood Authority is a recent bill from the group to help pay for annual maintenance costs for an Early Warning System. The group wanted $3,391 this year and another $6,902 next year. But Bledsoe said there are problems with a Web-based Early Warning System, an interface that isn’t user-friendly and the fact that it takes a password for the public to access. Plus, Bledsoe said, his city’s floods depend more on tidal influence than the river so he sees little value in the system.

Warning system

Flood Authority members spent time on Thursday dissecting the Early Warning System and its true value.

The annual cost for the project is $38,438 to do maintenance work on 10 stream and rain gauges, as well as $3,811 for a website to monitor 120 sensors in and near the Chehalis River Basin and $11,336 for ongoing website monitoring support. Total cost to the 12 members of the Flood Authority is $53,585 a year. At least half of that is due to cover costs through the end of this year, as well.

At this point, Flood Authority members from Cosmopolis, Montesano, Oakville, Centralia, Chehalis, Pe Ell, Bucoda as well as Lewis and Thurston counties had agreed to the funding, according to their officials to the Flood Authority. Council members in Napavine will discuss the issue next week and Grays Harbor County Commissioner Terry Willis said she asked for funding to be included in next year’s budget but she had not talked about the current amount due this year. Grays Harbor owes $13,804 annually.

There was some talk Thursday about launching a public awareness campaign about all of the benefits the Early Warning System brings to the area.

But Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said such a campaign really should hold off until the criticism about the Early Warning System’s Website is handled. Bledsoe is not the first to criticize the website for the system, she pointed out.

“I’m worried about that. I remember when I first checked out the site, I had to look up what the user name and password was,” Valenzuela said, urging an “easier entry port for the Early Warning System information.”

It would cost $2,000 to allow access to the Early Warning System without a user name and password, according to Scott Boettcher, a facilitator for the Flood Authority. Boettcher said those funds aren’t budgeted right now.

Boettcher lauded the benefits of the Early Warning System, which features the gauges to allow real-time rain, stream, reservoir, wind, temperature and other information along with flood inundation maps that show where flooding is expected at forecasted river stages all over the river basin.

Boettcher noted that the National Weather Service and emergency management officials use the system. The goal is to provide earlier and more accurate information about future floods, he said. In November, there were at least 1,000 uses of the website, although that number has trickled down to less than 50 in recent months.

Boettcher has also plotted on an online map all of the gages and other activity the Flood Authority has done. That can be found at http://goo.gl/maps/4uxBK