Pe Ell Dam Site

Project designer Keith Moen of HDR Engineering, left, walks across a bridge where the proposed dam would be located during a tour near Pe Ell earlier this year. 

The board of supervisors for the Chehalis Basin Flood Control Zone District approved a resolution on Wednesday that selected its preferred alternative of a proposed dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell.

The unanimous decision identified the expandable version of a dam as the favored approach moving forward and gave authority to the district administrator to submit a purpose and need statement to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology.

“The historic implications are a bit overwhelming,” supervisor Bobby Jackson said. “I’m looking forward to see how everything pans out as we move forward.” 

Jackson, along with fellow county commissioners Edna Fund and Gary Stamper, serve as supervisors for the district. 

Public Comment Period Begins for Expedited Chehalis River Dam Permit Process

The selected dam design was one of three options earlier presented to the board. The expandable version includes a flood retention dam that only has a reservoir during flooding events, but is built on a larger foundation to support future expansions into a flood retention and flow augmentation dam that would create a permanent reservoir.

The dam selected has 65,000 acre-feet of storage. The estimated cost of the first phase of construction is between $339 million and $484 million. The second phase has an estimated cost between $179 million and $266 million.

The advisory committee to the flood control zone district recommended the expandable dam prior to the vote by the supervisors. 

Jim Waldo, the project manager, said that although the supervisors selected their preferred alternative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the final outcome of the process.

The Army Corps and Ecology will still evaluate all the options on the table.

“They will look at other alternatives, but since you set it out as a preferred alternative it’s their starting point for analysis,” he said. “They’ll compare it against the purpose and need and look at the context of how it stacks up.” 

Prior to the decision, the board of supervisors toured the site of the proposed dam in late September. An open house on the options was also held in Pe Ell this week.

“We are hopeful we can begin to get the permitting in place so we can begin to go to work on a problem that has obviously been here for many, many years,” Jackson said.

Jackson thanked his predecessor, Commissioner Bill Schulte, for the work he put in on the project to get it to this point.

“This was one of his passions … I am thoroughly honored and blessed to be a part of this at this stage of it — the historical part of it — but have to give credence to Mr. Schulte for all of his hard work,” he said.

Fund, who is also on the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority and the state-level Office of Chehalis Basin, said the partnerships that have formed through the various flood-focused groups are a good sign for the future.

“We made a lot of progress in these years,” she said. 

Stamper agreed.

“The only way you are going to solve anything in my opinion is getting people in the room, asking questions, talking to them, finding out what the issues are and how we can resolve and work together to get the project finished,” he said.

Local Leaders Tour Site of Proposed Chehalis River Dam

Vic Khvoroff, a rancher from Randle, complimented the supervisors for moving forward to address the issue, but urged them to reach out to the citizens who would be required to conduct mitigation projects on their land so that they would not face the same issues he has on the Cowlitz River.

“When we build a dam there is going to be mitigation for the construction. You know that, we all know that, because of environmental degradation, so we have to provide environmental mitigation,” Khvoroff said. “… I encourage you folks to have that specified out in detail for you and give that information to the public, the people who are actually going to be affected by it and have to give up their property for something like this.”

Khvoroff had to give up a portion of his land for a bank stabilization project along the Cowlitz River so he knows the struggles that might be ahead for some of those living near the Chehalis River.

“I think that’s a fair request for the people that live down here. I realize this is me and it doesn’t affect you, but it’s going to be the same issue I had up there, and I don’t want to see my neighbors down here have the same problems that I have,” he said.

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