‘A Chance to Change History’

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Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund on Tuesday described standing on a shut-down Interstate 5 during the Chehalis River Basin 2007 flood.

“It was a very eerie feeling to think the economic engine on our roads was closed,” she said. “Everything was dark. It almost brought me to tears.”

Fund was one of several leaders from the Chehalis River Basin and other flood-prone areas throughout the state on Tuesday to testify before the House Capital Budget Committee in support of the Flood Hazard Reduction Act of 2014, legislation prime-sponsored by Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, that would provide up to $1.5 billion in flood relief funding.

Such money would help combat devastating flooding and jumpstart the economy, Fund said.

“On (the Lewis County) website we talk about flood warning systems and how to get to higher ground,” Fund said. “What does that say to prospective employers?”

The Flood Hazard Reduction Act of 2014 privileges the Chehalis River Basin as the only jurisdiction to receive automatic, guaranteed money — specifically, $300 million.

It authorizes the state finance committee to issue $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to be appropriated in phases over the next 10 years, starting in 2015.

Proceeds from the bond sales will be deposited in a flood hazard reduction account and a storm water financial assistance account.

Bonds will be paid with money from the state general fund.

The $300 million allocated to the Chehalis River Basin can be used for a variety of projects, including a dam.

Both the Flood Authority and the Chehalis Tribe must review and approve all projects before the Office of Financial Management disburses the funds.

The remaining money will be be awarded as grants via a competitive bidding process to qualifying jurisdictions such as counties, cities and federally recognized tribes.

According to DeBolt’s legislation, $700 million will go to flood reduction projects and $500 million to storm water reduction projects.

Applicants must provide a 20 percent match from non-state sources, but may receive credit for legitimate matching funds that were contributed less than 10 years prior to the date of their grant solicitation and that are related to the needs identified in the project application.

The Office of Financial Management, in consultation with the Department of Ecology, will review and rank the applications.

DeBolt’s request is presented as two separate bills: One for $1 billion for flood hazard reduction projects only; and one for $1.5 billion for both flood and stormwater projects.

Chehalis City Councilor Dennis Dawes on Tuesday said now is the time to act.

“We’ve been reactive too many years, this seems to be a way to be proactive,” he said.

Speaking in support of his bill, DeBolt told the committee the money will be put to good use.

“We have a chance with this bill to change history,” he said.

In November, the Chehalis Work Group, a flood policy group appointed by the governor, will announce whether or not it will recommend moving forward with a dam on the Upper Chehalis River.

To prepare for that decision, the flood leaders are examining water retention from all sides, and as work gears up, so do the financial requests.

In November, the Flood Authority and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation requested $100 million for Interstate 5 flood protection be included in the state’s 2014 transportation budget.

On June 29, the governor signed a state Capital Budget that included $28.2 million for catastrophic flood relief in the Chehalis Basin.

In 2012, legislators provided $5 million in Jobs Now Act money.

Gov. Jay Inslee already has included in his 2014 supplemental budget $5 million for Chehalis Basin flood mitigation projects.

The money, if approved by the Legislature, will replace funds that in August were removed from projects in Cosmopolis and Grays Harbor County and transferred to a project in Montesano.

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