The proposed capital funding plan released Monday by House budget writers would fund the Office of the Chehalis Basin at $83 million — $10 million more than the amount requested by the agency, and a huge leap from the $50 million Gov. Jay Inslee set aside in his budget.
“It is absolutely encouraging,” said county commissioner Edna Fund, a member of the Chehalis Basin Board. “I’m hoping that the Senate version will have identical language in. With all the wants the people have across the state for capital projects, it just feels really good to see that (funded).”
The state Senate has yet to release its proposed budget. The Legislature is scheduled vote on final budget proposals before the end of this year's session next month.
Fund credited House Capital Budget Committee Chair Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, and ranking minority member Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, for understanding the importance of the office.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do to get these people the funding that they needed,” DeBolt said. “A lot of members wanted to keep things moving.”
The Office of the Chehalis Basin was formed in 2016, set up within the Department of Ecology to handle the work of the Chehalis Basin Strategy — a long-term series of projects designed to improve both flooding conditions and aquatic habitat on the Chehalis River and its tributaries. The Chehalis Basin Board is made up of members appointed by the governor’s office, the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, and the Chehalis and Quinault Tribes.
OCB leaders had requested $73 million in this budget cycle, and DeBolt said that number climbed by $10 million when legislators added language to guarantee funding for the North Shore Levee project in Aberdeen and Hoquiam. In total, $25 million of OCB’s funds are designated for that project.
“Right now the Office of the Chehalis Basin is moving toward getting this levee built down in Grays Harbor, and we also have to get these projects built,” DeBolt said. “(OCB has) about 100 different projects working, and we have to get the (Chehalis River dam environmental impact statement) done.”
DeBolt said he was optimistic similar funding would be included in the Senate version of the capital budget, as legislators from around the state recognize the importance of the flooding and habitat work the office is doing. According to Fund, that’s a testament to the lobbying work Office of the Chehalis Basin leaders have been doing in Olympia.
“It’s the community members of the group who have been visiting with legislators about this,” she said. “This is validation that when you talk about the issues and how needful this is, it sounds like people were listening. … They know the challenges we’ve had.”