The proposed Chehalis River flood-retention dam, shown in non-flood conditions.

The second of two public webinar hearings on the state Department of Ecology’s draft Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed flood-retention dam near Pe Ell drew about 130 listeners, and nearly every commenter spoke out against the project. 

“Lewis County and the community have continued to allow development in the floodplain,” said commenter Margie Van Cleve, of Selah. “There’s a saying, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is put down your shovel. This does not seem to have happened in the Chehalis basin.” 

The flood retention dam is one the largest projects proposed in the larger Chehalis Basin Strategy, which includes flood damage mitigation and aquatic species restoration work on a basin-wide level. It is intended to reduce flooding primarily in the area of Centralia and Chehalis near Interstate 5.  The full presentation on the draft EIS presented at Tuesday’s hearing is available at ecology.wa.gov/DOE/files/1a/1aa695aa-ca9a-4302-89c1-fd31af0d84bd.pdf

Ecology released the draft EIS in February, which assesses possible environmental impacts of the dam’s construction and its long-term use. It takes into account two other options as well — taking no action and taking local actions, or smaller-scale approaches.

The dam would be designed to retain water during a flood event, and allow for normal water flow the rest of the time. 

According to the draft EIS, construction would take place from 2025 to 2030 and operation from 2030 to 2080. 

The EIS generally concludes that the project would have negative effects on fish and other aquatic species, particularly salmon. It would also negatively impact recreation in the area and water quality. The draft EIS notes that mitigation projects would need to be specified to counter these effects. 

The project would also reportedly increase water temperatures and require the removal of 90 percent of trees in a 600-acre temporary reservoir. 

Of particular concern to commenters and to the Quinault Indian Nation, which formally opposed the project this week, was the conclusion in the EIS that the project would have significant negative impacts on genetically unique populations of spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead. 

Eric Schwartz Commentary: Focus on Dam — and Dam Alone — Shows an Incomplete Look at Chehalis Basin Strategy

One of three spring-run Chinook spawning areas would be negatively affected. Salmon and steelhead in this particular area make up about 1.2 percent to 3.4 percent of spring-run Chinook salmon, fall-run Chinook salmon, and coho salmon and about 15.7 percent of steelhead basin-wide.

“I don’t want to see these amazing resources disappear for my children,” said Walker Hammond

While the project was expected to cause problems for the fish species, it is expected to significantly reduce flooding downstream of the dam.  

For example, on Leudinghaus Road, the dam would completely eliminate flooding, according to the EIS. It is projected to also reduce flooding at the Washington State Patrol facility in Chehalis, and along Interstate 5 in Chehalis and Centralia. 

According to the EIS, of nearly 3,000 structures at risk of catastrophic flooding in the Centralia and Chehalis area, 1,280 would no longer be inundated if the dam was built. It is also predicted to decrease the amount of time portions of Interstate 5 would be under water. 

Galilee Carlisle, of Boistfort, said she understood the dangers of flooding but felt the dam was not a good solution. 

“I’ve come to the conclusion this is not a solution,” she said. “It will offer no flood reduction for the vast majority who live along the Chehalis and its tributaries.”

She also raised concerns that the dam would only be effective if heavy rain occurred upstream of Pe Ell, in the Willapa Hills, as it did in 2007, but would not be useful in other circumstances. 

“Which is actually a huge ‘if,’ ” she said. “This is a bad gamble.”

Several commenters raised concerns about the dam’s impact on Chinook salmon, specifically, a primary source of food for the endangered southern resident Orca population, and the effects it would have on the marine mammal, already “on a precipice,” said Cindy Hanson, education coordinator, Orca Network. 

“We have grave concerns about impacts to southern resident Orcas,” she said. “This project poses an unacceptable risk” to the species.

Other commenters were concerned about vegetation, noting that the EIS states the project would require the removal of trees and existing vegetation in the reservoir area, which could potentially give non-native invasive species an opportunity to take root.

“The dam will be expensive and benefit few at the expense of many,” said Phyllis Farrell of South Sound Sierra Club.

For more information or to submit a comment, go to ecology.wa.gov/About-us/Get-to-know-us/Our-Programs/Office-of-Chehalis-Basin/Chehalis-flood-reduction-EIS.

Comments are accepted through May 27. 

(1) comment

Frosted Flake

Yeah! What he said! And her! And him! And what I said.

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