Guest Commentary: Chehalis Tribe, Quinault Nation Concerned About Dam Sponsor Mitigation Plan


In a recent Chronicle article, the Chehalis River Flood Control Zone District (FCZD) suggests the Chehalis Tribe and the Quinault Indian Nation, among other groups, have “spoken favorably” about conducting a mitigation plan for its proposed dam on the Upper Chehalis River.

In fact, elected leaders of the Quinault Indian Nation and Chehalis Tribe were not directly consulted about the FCZD’s plan and favor allowing the environmental studies now underway by the state and federal governments to lead the way.

An essential purpose of the Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) being prepared by the Washington Dept. of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to provide decision makers, affected communities and the public with a scientifically-credible picture of the full range of possible impacts of the proposed dam and potential mitigation actions for those impacts. Critically, the studies will also examine potential alternatives to a dam as part of providing an unbiased view.

Until those studies are complete, producing a stand-alone mitigation plan for the proposed dam at best puts the cart before the horse and at worst could undermine the environmental review process by sending a message that building a dam has already been determined as the right alternative for reducing flood damage in the Chehalis Basin. 

Until those EIS studies have been completed, we won’t know the full range of possible impacts or have the kind of information to evaluate threshold questions such as whether the proposed dam site is safe geologically, whether there will be impacts that cannot be mitigated or how potential alternatives stack up.

State and federal scientific review of the dam and potential alternatives also give the public a voice. The required public participation and input process is essential for transparency, accountability and credibility in decision making. 

The Chehalis Tribe has already said it opposes the dam. The Quinault Indian Nation will eventually take a position based on its independent scientific evaluation of the dam’s possible impacts on the Nation’s treaty rights and resources. While the Quinault Nation already has voiced its concerns about the dam, it is committed to giving it full and fair consideration. Following the state and federal environmental review process is fundamental to that consideration.

The proposed dam was recommended by a workgroup of Governor Jay Inslee in 2014. Since then the dam has been considered as part of the state-led Chehalis Basin Strategy (Strategy) which has a dual mission to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic species throughout the entire Chehalis Basin.The Chehalis Tribe and Quinault Indian Nation have participated and supported the Strategy since its inception because of its inclusive, collaborative and science-based approach.

The State of Washington has budgeted more than $12 million to pay for both the state and federal environmental studies which will be completed in 2020. In light of that substantial investment it doesn’t make sense to spend more public funds on a mitigation plan outside the process that could damage its credibility.

The state has committed to completing its study by the end of February next year when affected communities in the Basin and the public will get their first chance to weigh-in on the dam, alternatives to the dam and their impacts and potential mitigation. For the sake of transparency, credibility and fairness we urge staying the course and allowing the formal environmental study process to lead the way.