The Washington state Department of Ecology held the first of two public hearings Thursday evening scheduled to take formal comments on an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed flood retention dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell.
The flood retention dam is one of several projects proposed in the larger Chehalis Basin Strategy, which includes flood damage mitigation and aquatic species restoration work on a basin-wide level.
Ecology released its EIS on the dam project in February, which concludes that that climate change will lead to more frequent and worse flooding, and found that the project would significantly reduce flooding to buildings and infrastructure, including Interstate 5.
However, the EIS concludes that the project would have negative effects on fish and other aquatic species, particularly salmon. It would also negatively impact recreation in the area.
The $385 million project would build a dam standing more than 250 feet high and 210 feet wide. It could retain 65,000 acre-feet of water in a 720-acre temporary reservoir in the event of a flood. The dam would not impede river flow except in the event of a flood. If the floodwaters got too high, they would flow over its emergency spillway.
More than a dozen people gave oral testimony on the EIS during the webinar.
Brian Stewart, of Onalaska, expressed concern about mitigation on wildlife migration routes throughout the Chehalis Basin and how they might be affected by the dam.
“There’s going to have to be more robust mitigation offerings or recommendations,” he said. “I think it’s something that needs to be discussed a little deeper.”
Lee First, of Aberdeen, expressed concerns about water temperature increases predicted to come from the construction of the dam, and about effects on the environment from construction, which she argued were not adequately accounted for in the EIS.
“Please revisit and reconsider these impacts as construction is expected to take 5 years,” she said.
Some area residents spoke in favor of the dam’s ability to spare the Centralia and Chehalis area from the type of flooding seen in 2007. Hearing facilitator Diane Butorac noted that the dam would not have entirely prevented the 2007 flood, but would have lessened the impacts. Other commenters were concerned about the effects on Orca populations in the Puget Sound.
An EIS doesn’t greenlight a project, but gives a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts it might have. The EIS also considered two other options — to do nothing, or to do a number of local flood mitigation projects rather than the dam.
Rural Chehalis resident Frank Corbin commented that fish species are in trouble regardless of the project, and that mitigation required by Ecology could benefit those species.
“The do nothing option, I don’t believe is an option,” he said. “Doing something however, gives us an opportunity to improve the habitat. Flooding in and of itself provides a detriment to aquatic species habitat. Providing some flood controls will allow us to reduce that negative impact of habitat degradation.”
The first hearing on the project was originally scheduled to take place March 31 at Centralia College with the second on Thursday. The March 31 hearing has been rescheduled to April 21, and Thursday’s meeting was rescheduled to as a webinar due to social distancing requirements for COVID-19.
The April 21 hearing is also scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and take place as a webinar.
Information on the hearings is available at ecology.wa.gov. Written comments can be submitted online or though mail and are due by May 27.
For more information or to submit a comment, go to ecology.wa.gov/About-us/Get-to-know-us/Our-Programs/Office-of-Chehalis-Basin/Chehalis-flood-reduction-EIS.