Governor’s budget proposal includes Flood Authority funds

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire’s capital budget proposal for 2013-2015 includes $28.2 million in flood relief projects along the Chehalis River, including funding for the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority to continue, as well as numerous projects from Cosmopolis, Aberdeen, Montesano and eastern Grays Harbor.

The funding comes after the Flood Authority helped facilitate $5 million in on-the-ground flood mitigation projects this past year. Chehalis Basin Flood Authority Chairman Vickie Raines says she thinks the work made during this past year showed “tremendous progress” and proved that the Flood Authority can be more than just a group that focuses on studies and consultants.

How much of the governor’s proposal will reach the final budget remains uncertain. Gov.-Elect Jay Inslee is planning to present his own capital budget proposal and leaders in the state House and Senate will also have their own budgets.

Gregoire decided to include funding for more flood mitigation projects along the Chehalis River because she has witnessed the devastation in the area following the December 2007 storm and flood and it was a priority for her before leaving office.

“It really goes to show the importance that this issue is on the governor’s plate,” Raines said.

Instead of delegating the $28.2 million to the Flood Authority, Gregoire’s budget puts the state Office of Financial Management in charge of the funds, providing a clearing house for flood prevention leaders to prove that their potential projects will be worth the state money that could be allocated to the work, according to Raines.

The potential funds include $9.2 million to design alternatives for large capital flood projects. That could mean more work to be done on a potential earthen dam on the upper Chehalis River, but it may also mean potential flood walls to protect Interstate 5.

The budget also includes $1.21 million to provide administrative oversight of the funding sources, including staffing for the Flood Authority, as well as facilitating the governor’s workgroup under Inslee, should Inslee decide to keep the workgroup intact. Gregoire had convened a smaller workgroup when she decided that she wanted a different take on potential projects that could be done on the Chehalis Basin. The group, which includes Raines and a couple members of the Flood Authority, as well as a couple non-members, provided the recommendations that led to Gregoire’s budget proposal.

The budget provides $1.75 million to begin purchasing residential and other structures in the flood plain, with the potential for a match from the federal government. Plus, there’s $950,000 to pay for technical assistance from various state agencies.

The actual flood mitigation projects would include $4.35 million, which would specifically be designed to both reduce flood damage and benefit fish. Projects have been identified near Littlerock and Oxbow Lake with $1.35 million left over for smaller projects across the basin to be identified later.

Grays Harbor County would get $510,000 to continue to do flood plain restoration on the Satsop River. The county already received $500,000 to start the work this past year. The county may also receive $2.642 million to work on a flood levee on Wishkah Road, located just outside Aberdeen. The funds would be for final design, permitting, construction, land acquisition and home elevation to help the 60 homes in the area.

The budget includes $584,000 to do work on the overflow bridge on Wakefield Bridge and to install a culvert in nearby Porter Creek in the Elma-Porter area, which could help several farms in the area and Briggs Nursery.

The City of Aberdeen would get $670,000 to start construction on a dike along Market Street as well as $410,000 for a dike on the Wishkah River behind Burger King. Aberdeen Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe said that the city does not yet know what the final costs to do that work will be. Bledsoe says it’s possible the funding will be enough to do the work on the Wiskah River, but has doubts that it will be enough to fix Market Street. A few months ago, the city received funding to do an initial assessment on those dikes and a couple others.

The City of Montesano would get $2 million to do final design, permitting and construction to provide better flood protection on the Mary’s River mill property, which sits along the Chehalis River.

Montesano Mayor Ken Estes says that initial estimates for the work run from $1 million to $5 million. Estes said that they won’t know the final design options until April.

The City of Cosmopolis would also receive $2.25 million for improvements to the Mill Creek Dam — which is the only project funded that didn’t previously receive some money from the state. Mill Creek breached a few years ago and the city has been scrambling for the funds to repair the dam. Raines, who is also mayor of Cosmopolis, said that the funding came as a surprise to her.

“I knew we were potentially on the list but to make it this far is amazing,” Raines said. “We have tried so hard to figure out what to do with Mill Creek Dam and the potential to get funds to fix the problem is a dream come true.”