Legislature awards $28.2 million in flood relief funding

The Washington State Legislature over the weekend passed and delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee for signature a State Capital Budget that includes $28.2 million for catastrophic flood relief in the Chehalis Basin.

The Legislature’s award matches the full request made in November by the Chehalis Work Group, a policy-making body that acts as a liaison to Olympia.

With the state funding, the Chehalis Work Group and the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority will be able to continue their work, including long-term and short-term projects to mitigate damage and provide relief from flooding for communities throughout the basin.

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia — Lewis County lawmakers who were instrumental in garnering support for flood relief at the state level — on Saturday applauded the Legislature’s decision.

“Lewis County has been devastated by floods twice in the past decade,” Braun said in a release. “Today we took a meaningful step forward toward our goal of flood protection for the communities in the Chehalis River Valley.”

“Too often in government we see partisan fighting instead of problem solving,” DeBolt said. “On this issue all 12 legislators whose districts the Chehalis River runs through came together with a unified voice to get this done.”

Centralia Flood Authority Representative Ron Averill said he was pleased but not surprised; a confident position he’s maintained over the last seven months.

“We basically had assurances all along it was coming,” Averill said. “We’ve had a couple threats to lower the amount. I was a little bit concerned about that, and you never know until it’s finally done, so this is good.”

Edna Fund, the Lewis County representative to the Flood Authority, said she was thrilled by the positive development.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”

Fund has been optimistic, she said, since hearing Chehalis Tribe Chairman David Burnett tell lawmakers that an effective dam and high quality fishing could exist in congruence — a watershed moment, according to Fund.

The state’s allocation was a near perfect match to the Chehalis Work Group’s November request: $9.2 million for the study and design of a dam and other long-term projects to improve Interstate 5; $10.7 million for local flood protection projects; $4.4 million for projects that reduce flooding while benefitting fish; $1.75 million for reducing damage to residences and other structures in the floodplain; $1.2 million for operation of the basin program and for project management; and $950,000 for state agency technical assistance and project permitting.

Former governor Chris Gregoire included full funding in her 2013-2015 Outgoing Capital Budget.

Members of the Work Group include: Vickie Raines, the Flood Authority chairwoman; Karen Valenzuela, the vice chair of the Flood Authority; J. Vander Stoep, an alternate to the Flood Authority; David Burnett, the chair of the Chehalis Tribe; Jay Gordon, the head of the Washington Dairy Farmers Association; and Keith Phillips, an adviser to the governor.