Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal for the Office of the Chehalis Basin maintains the group’s construction bond funding at $50 million over the next biennium, despite the office’s request for an increase to $73 million.
“We weren’t cut as much as others, but that still doesn’t give me a lot of solace for the kind of work we need to do out there,” said Edna Fund, a member of the Chehalis Basin Board.
The budget number is just a preliminary proposal, and the final number will need to be passed by the Legislature, which has historically been supportive of funding flood and habitat funding for Chehalis River projects.
Last biennium, Inslee proposed $30 million for the Office, which is funded through the capital budget, but signed into law the $50 million approved by the Legislature. The proposal for the 2019-21 biennium also gives the Office the authority to accept up to $10 million of federal funding.
“It's definitely different, but not radically different (from OCB’s request),” said OCB board member J. Vander Stoep. “It shows a very strong commitment on (Inslee’s) part again.”
Another $1.5 million in the operating budget is expected to fund OCB’s administration.
Fund said the Office of Chehalis Basin will continue to advocate for the full funding it has requested, and said OCB Director Andrea McNamara Doyle was setting up meetings with legislators. Staffers told Inslee told OCB leaders that the best way to push for more funding was the “build a case” about projects the group would be able to do if fully funded, Fund said.
The main differences in the budgets, Vander Stoep said, are cuts in funding for the Aberdeen/Hoquiam North Shore Levee and changes in projects for habitat and fisheries.
However, Ralph Thomas, communications director for the Washington Office of Financial Management, said Inslee’s budget is “not tied to a list.”
“It assumes pro-rated reduction from the Chehalis Basin Board’s $73.2 million request,” he wrote in an email. “Historically, these projects take time to complete, which requires reauthorization of any unused authority. Some unfunded projects may need to be re-requested in the 2021-23 biennial cycle, but that’s up to the board to decide.”
Both budgets call for $12.5 million to continue work on the environmental reviews of the proposed flood retention project near Pe Ell, which would create a temporary reservoir during flood events in hopes of mitigating the damage that has devastated areas downstream, including the Twin Cities.
At the last Chehalis Basin Board meeting, representatives from the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave presentations that indicated they’re still on track to complete their environmental reviews in early 2020.
The Office of the Chehalis Basin was created in 2016 under the Department of Ecology to oversee long-term implementation of the Chehalis Basin Strategy, tasked with taking on projects to deal with both flooding and habitat restoration. The board includes members appointed by the governor’s office, the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, and the Chehalis and Quinault Tribes.
“We have legislators on both sides of the political aisle who represent parts of the Chehalis Basin, and they have been bipartisan in their support of this effort,” Vander Stoep said. “I'm optimistic that will continue. ... I can't tell you how the Legislature will end up deciding on this budget, but I think we have strong support.”