The Chehalis Tribe on Wednesday publicly announced its opposition to a proposed floodwater retention dam near Pe Ell, roughly a week after the public comment period ended on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
The proposed dam is a part of the larger Chehalis Basin Strategy, intended both to reduce flooding and improve the health of salmon species.
The Chehalis Tribe said in a news release that it has been concerned about the dam’s potential adverse impact on species in the Chehalis Basin for some time. Following the release of the EIS, the tribe cited a “lack of thorough scientific data to answer the most basic questions surrounding the dam’s feasibility forces,” as the driving force behind the public opposition.
“The DEIS failed to answer our concerns, and we are now making our comments publicly,” Chehalis Tribe Chairman Harry Pickernell said in the release. “It will now be our duty, as Chehalis Basin Board members, to seek other plans to minimize the impacts of flooding in the basin.”
The project has also been opposed by the Quinault Indian Nation due to potential ramifications on the environment, the financial outlook of the project and the desire for a larger-scale solution for communities basin-wide, according to Quinault Tribal Council Vice President Tyson Johnston.
He said the Quinault Indian Nation had similar issues with what was ultimately published in the Draft State Environmental Policy Act EIS, which was drafted by the state Department of Ecology.
“We were very clear to the Department of Ecology the types of analysis and things that we would like to see in their analysis for the proposed project,” Johnston said. “A lot of that was not even done. They didn’t even have proposed mitigation or do any kind of analysis on the alternatives.”
The draft EIS found that the dam — only designed to retain water during a flood event — would have an adverse effect on fish species. Comments from the public were accepted through May 27. Now Ecology will be tasked with finalizing the EIS.
On Thursday, the conversation surrounding possible solutions shifted toward alternatives to the project in the Office of the Chehalis Basin’s monthly meeting, as the members of the board discussed what would make an alternative to the proposed dam successful.
Director of the Office of the Chehalis Basin Andrea McNamara Doyle discussed establishing goals that an alternative should meet, including taking a look into the various parts of the Chehalis Basin and the specific needs of those places.
“That would help inform what the unique goals for those different areas of the basin might be from a geographic standpoint,” McNamara Doyle said during the meeting. “It would affect the kinds of prescribed treatments that would be appropriate.”
Additionally, the need for an alternative plan to coincide with the goal of fish habitat recoveries and focus on a resilience to climate change also was brought forth as another objective.
“We need to look at actions and find alternatives that are environmentally-sensitive,” McNamara Doyle said.
Chehalis Basin Board Members Edna Fund and J. Vander Stoep, said the EIS doesn’t yet paint a complete picture of the proposed project.
Fund compared the opposition expressed by the Chehalis Tribe to that of the Quinault Indian Nation.
“If you look just at the comments and the thoughts on the EIS, it looks pretty dismal,” Fund said. “Based on that, I too would say, you know, this doesn’t look good. But, we also know we need to take a look at some of our options for mitigation.”
A look at the various ways to address the issues presented by the Chehalis Tribe and the Quinault Indian Nation wasn’t included in the EIS, but is still on the way, according to Vander Stoep.
He hopes that by the fall, the full impact of the proposed water retention facility, including how the effects on aquatic species and the quality of water can be avoided, will become clear.
“They’ll review that and we’ll see if that has an impact on their thinking,” Vander Stoep said.
The Office of the Chehalis Basin is moving forward with work on mitigation strategies and will continue to look at both the proposed flood retention facility, as well as alternative strategies.
Johnston called the discussion and focus on alternatives to the proposed project “the start of a very important pivot” for the Office of the Chehalis Basin. He remains hopeful that the group can continue working toward a solution that satisfies all of the involved groups.
“I think today was the first step in kind of shifting that direction and looking at what possibilities exist there,” Johnston said. “I feel optimistic about today’s discussions and I think that this process lends itself to really creating opportunities for communities to get to know each other and understand our unique situations and the struggles we face.”
The commitment to working through the process was echoed by the Chehalis Tribe.
“While the Chehalis Tribe remains opposed to a potential dam, its willingness to remain at the table and work toward a solution remains,” according to a release. “The Chehalis Tribe is still committed to finding those alternatives and is still committed to finding alternatives that meet the dual criteria of helping people and fish at the same time.”