‘Historic Step Forward’ Marks Milestone in Flood Efforts

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The words displayed across the front page of today’s edition are anything but empty.

They accompany an unparalleled announcement in the decades-old story of efforts to take the edge off catastrophic flooding in our region. 

Gov. Jay Inslee deserves praise for endorsing a sweeping plan that takes into account the destruction of floods and the need to preserve and improve the fisheries of the Chehalis River Basin.

It’s a proposal that addresses the needs of the entire basin, not just Interstate 5.

His nod of approval came after the recommendations of a diverse group of basin leaders. The Chehalis Basin Work Group is recommending the initiation of a permitting process for a flood retention dam, improvements to the Chehalis-Centralia Airport Levee, basinwide efforts to restore aquatic species, pursuit of smaller-scale flood reduction projects and actions by governments to ensure that further development does not create harm to floodplains.

The recommendations are presented as one cohesive project.

Those who have followed the issue might be quick to point out that there have been many false starts in flood protection efforts over the years.

Indeed, since 1933, there have been close to 1,000 studies relating to fish and flooding.

This time, though, basin leaders have come forward with a plan that has gained the approval of a governor because they have taken into account all viewpoints.

This isn’t about flooding or fish. This is about flooding and fish. 

The composition of the Chehalis Basin Work Group speaks to that reality. It includes former Chehalis Tribe Chairman David Burnett, Cosmopolis Mayor and Flood Authority Chair Vickie Raines, Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, Washington Dairy Federation Executive Director Jay Gordon, Inslee’s policy adviser Rob Duff and Chehalis attorney and Flood Authority member J. Vander Stoep.

These are Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, all working together to promote a project that will in theory accomplish all of their goals. 

Much work remains to be done, of course, but efforts have already started in the Legislature where state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, is championing a multi-billion dollar piece of legislation that would fund water and stormwater projects throughout the state.

It has bipartisan support, and with the governor’s endorsement on the Chehalis River Basin projects, the bill could fund efforts to build a dam and restore fish.

With success comes reflection, and it’s important to remember all that has been done to reach this point since the massive flood of 2007.

Progress has been slow, but it has been methodical. It has included the input of a broad spectrum of interests and individuals. For perhaps the first time, the search for a solution has not been killed by infighting and differing viewpoints. 

It will be years before the largest piece of the plan, the water retention dam, is built.

But this is indeed “a historic step forward” for the Chehalis River Basin.

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