Both the Chehalis and Centralia city councils were asked by Lewis County commissioners to submit a letter opposing the plan by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to acquire 9,600 acres of land owned by TransAlta.
The wildlife refuge has been described by WDFW as “a rare opportunity to manage a landscape that allows room for the creation or restoration of high-quality wildlife habitats, such as wetlands and grasslands to benefit waterfowl, amphibians, mammals, reptiles and fish.”
The 9,600 acres excludes the 100-plus acres of land in the Industrial Park at TransAlta (IPAT), which are zoned for industrial, manufacturing and commercial development.
Lewis County commissioners have expressed their concern with the proposed project stifling future economic development.
Chehalis city councilors each agreed to submit the letter, drafted by the county, which expressed strong opposition to the public wildlife refuge, after hearing from Cody Duncan, a business developer with TransAlta.
The Centralia city councilors heard from Duncan and from Kessina Lee, Brian Calkins and Cynthia Wilkerson with WDFW, as well as from Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Lewis County Assessor Dianne Dorey.
Meyer and Dorey both expressed concerns with disruptions to the tax base when TransAlta shuts down operations in 2025. The shutdown was established by an agreement between the state and TransAlta, made almost a decade ago. In April of 2011, then-governor Chris Gregoire, TransAlta executives and members of the environmental and labor communities signed legislation to transition the state off of combustible coal power.
Councilor Rebecca Staebler was more open to the public wildlife refuge and felt it would be beneficial to the community to explore the possibilities with WDFW. Councilor Kelly Smith Johnston called for more communication and transparency from WDFW and TransAlta moving forward.
After discussions, the Centralia city councilors voted to direct staff to draft a letter that more clearly reflected the views of the council rather than submit the letter drafted by the county.
The video of the Centralia City Council meeting is available on the video-streaming platform AV CaptureAll.