The Office of the Chehalis Basin Board met on Friday for the first time since the new office was established on July 1, to discuss the board’s responsibilities, procedures and decision making processes.
Created by the Legislature, the office has dual goals of aggressively pursuing long-term flood reduction damage and enhancing aquatic species habitat.
Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology that oversees the office, said the board’s focus is to “strike the right balance” when addressing those issues.
“This is an incredible model that this board will be moving forward on,” she said.
Bellon will be charged with hiring a director for the office. In the interim, Gordon White, Ecology’s state floodplain manager, will oversee the operations.
Ideally, a director would be hired this summer, but at the latest, the goal is to get someone in place no later than October. That depends on when the Legislature passes the state’s capital budget which will include funding for the new office. The House and the Senate both proposed more than $40 million in their budget proposal for the 2017 to 2019 biennium.
The Office of the Chehalis Basin will draw from a programmatic environmental impact statement released earlier this year by Ecology which outlined four alternatives to accomplish both goals, one of which includes the construction of a dam on the upper Chehalis River near Pe Ell.
Board members weighed in on the qualifications they thought were important in a director. They hoped the director would have some legal background, a deep understanding of Washington and how the governmental branches work, and someone who holds clout and experience.
Tribal representatives from the Quinault Indian Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Basin provided their perspectives on the importance of the river basin.
David Burnett, with the Chehalis Tribe, stressed the importance of the fisheries, stating the group should not come up with a solution that protects assets but ignores the fish.
“I want to make sure any solution we come up with will go beyond simply flood protection, but will enhance the environment,” he said.
Tyson Johnstone, with the Quinault Indian Nation, explained the importance of the waterway for his tribe, and stated he wanted to ensure future generations could enjoy the salmon and resources.
He said the tribe is invested in the process and wants to support the critical work the office is challenged to do.
“Fundamentally even speaking from a tribal perspective, I know in my heart I’m here for the same values and interests that you share,” he said, adding he hopes the group’s work will result in a strategy or solution to the issues faced.
The board decided it would operate on a consensus decision-making process, like the former Governor’s Work Group did, and would only turn to a vote if absolutely necessary.
J. Vander Stoep, a member on the board and former member of the Governor’s Work Group, said if the group passes major decisions with a 4-3 vote, for example, it would not be successful in the Legislature.
“That’s the reality of the situation,” he said. “… We either succeed on consensus with the big issues or it’s going to fail. Having a vote procedure if it’s necessary in the meantime makes sense. I don’t think it risks breaking down the process.”
The board received training from Laura Watson, senior assistant attorney general, on the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act, two trainings that are mandated.
They also went over the member handbook and discussed funding options for the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan, which was ultimately tabled until the board’s August meeting.
“There is enough funding in the reappropriated capital budget to allow work on development of the plan to continue for another month or so, at which time we hope to have more information on the new capital budget and final reappropriated funds to inform their decision,” White said on the postponing of a decision.
The board will hold meetings on the first Thursday of every month.