Lawmakers blame Inslee’s ‘broken promise’ for delays on behavioral health treatment facility in Chehalis


Local lawmakers say a “broken promise” from Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration resulted in a six-month construction delay on a behavioral health treatment facility in Lewis County.

In response, an Inslee spokesperson said Wednesday the council overseeing code modifications, which operates independently from the governor,  is “hard at work” while also complying with public comment requirements and a federal court ruling.

Construction requirements for the facility, an inpatient center in Chehalis that will house up to 16 people with substance use disorder, currently fall under the institutional building code instead of the residential building code. 

In a Tuesday news release, Senate Republican Leader John Braun and Rep. Peter Abbarno, both Republicans from Centralia, said new code requirements set to go into effect next week would allow the facility to be classified under the less costly residential building code. The State Building Code Council (SBCC) is not expected to make a final decision until mid-March following delays connected to Inslee’s climate policy, the lawmakers said.

“People are dying because they don’t have access to drug treatment,” Braun said in the release. “Inflation raises the cost of construction just like it does anything else. The governor controls all the players in this — the members of the building code council are his picks, the state Department of Health is in his branch of government — and he still can’t get it done. This is a stunning lack of leadership, and unfortunately, it just adds to the record of mismanagement and incompetence by the Inslee administration.” 

In his statement, Abbarno said “sadly, the R-4 building code designation change has been caught up in the governor’s political gamesmanship. The long overdue code change to add drug-treatment capacity will save lives.”

Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, said in a Wednesday email it’s their understanding the “delay is one of several related to the SBCC’s requirement to comply with a recent 9th Circuit ruling” and “repeated requests from (Building Industry Association of Washington) and industry associations.”

Still, Abbarno and Braun said the delay resulted from the governor’s push for green and renewable energy and called on the Legislature to act during the upcoming session. According to Braun and Abbarno, rule changes the SBCC considered earlier this year included a "controversial" requirement for electric heat in new construction projects. A similar requirement in California was “invalidated by a federal court," the lawmakers said.

The lawmakers unsuccessfully introduced identical legislation this year to bring the facility under the R-4 code, which the Legislature could again consider when it convenes in January.

Braun and Abbarno say the bill would immediately take effect and shorten construction delays for the Chehalis facility.

“The people in our state whose lives are turned upside down because of drug addiction probably aren’t focused on carbon emissions,” Braun said in the statement. “Changing building codes to add drug-treatment capacity won’t get you an invitation to meet with global leaders in New York or impress the donor class, the way that demonizing natural gas will, but it’s what our communities need. The governor has a terrible track record when it comes to mental health issues, and this is unfortunately just the latest example. Because he can’t deliver on time, this project is two years behind where it should be.”

While Inslee appoints members to the council, Faulk said it “operates and makes decisions independent” from the governor’s office.

“The council has been hard at work to revise and adopt the codes as quickly as possible (while complying with public comment requirements),” Faulk wrote in the email. “They are scheduled to finalize the revised codes by the end of next month.”