Raines re-elected to top post for Flood Authority

Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines has been re-elected to serve another year as chairwoman of the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, the 12-member group charged with finding flooding solutions along the Chehalis River.

Besides Raines, Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela was re-elected vice chairwoman, during a special telephone meeting of the group last week.

Raines has held the position since May of 2011, when then-chairwoman Terry Willis, a Group Harbor County commissioner, was ousted following a dispute over the creation of a different flood group known as the Watershed Cooperative.

Raines was selected unanimously by the group, which consists of representatives from Cosmopolis, Aberdeen, Montesano, Oakville, Chehalis, Centralia, Pe Ell, Napavine, Bucoda and Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.

Raines says her biggest challenge will be to push for Gov.-Elect Jay Inslee’s Office and local legislators to support the $28.2 million in flood relief projects that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed in her outgoing capital budget proposal for 2013-2015.

“We will have to reach out to our legislators to make sure our budget isn’t modified,” Raines said.

An immediate change for the Flood Authority is that instead of meeting every month in person, the group will alternate between phone meetings and meeting in person.

“It’s an effort to save expenses as well as the related mileage costs,” Raines said. “The phone meetings are working very well.”

Next year, the Flood Authority will also bring miniature “road shows” to every city council and county commission as a way to demonstrate to council members and the public at large what it is the Flood Authority is actually doing.

“There are still people who think we’re worthless and haven’t done anything, but we’ve done a lot this last year,” Raines said.

Raines noted that the group has worked on flood projects in the Lewis County area, as well as the Satsop River and studies are about to begin on potential improvements in Aberdeen. Everything from “critter pads” that help livestock. to flood plain restoration efforts have begun. Last year, the Legislature allocated $5 million for the Flood Authority to do a specific list of projects.

Edna Fund, who was recently elected as a new Lewis County commissioner, said she pushed for Raines to continue to be chair of the group. Fund had represented Centralia on the board, but will now represent Lewis County, she said.

“She does a wonderful job of running the meetings,” Fund said. “She’s a perfect choice as we continue down the road. I know I can call her day or night and she’s always available and she has a great sense of humor that is needed sometimes. … We’ve done a remarkable amount of work, yet every time I hear a lot of rain falling outside my door, I get nervous on why we can’t get something done now. The challenge is to keep working with a group as a team.”

A big question is whether the Flood Authority will still exist at the end of next year. The group has funding for a facilitator through July and Gregoire’s budget includes more money for staff and for the Flood Authority to continue to function for another two years.

“I was really surprised to see that,” said Montesano Mayor Ken Estes, who represents his city on the Flood Authority. “I honestly thought the group might not get any funding at all. It may take some work to keep that money in the budget.”

Estes said if there’s anyone who can represent the Flood Authority well to the public it’s Raines. “She’s been not just a great facilitator, but a great spokesman, as well,” Estes said.