A recent meeting of lawmakers and other stakeholders in flood mitigation and aquatic species protection plans in the Chehalis Basin included some encouraging additions.
Along with legislators from the 19th and 20th legislative districts, Lewis County officials and other advocates, there were also representatives from labor interests and the recreational fishing community.
Like many local leaders and residents and most city and county governments in the basin, they voiced support for a flood protection dam near Pe Ell and the accompanying plan to protect salmon and other aquatic species.
During the virtual meeting held Thursday, Feb. 11, renowned Lewis County fishing guide Clancy Holt, who has been in the business for nearly 65 years, noted that he has been on “both sides” of the issue, from suffering from a reduction in fish runs over the years to helping rescue victims of devastating floods.
“This project is necessary,” he said. “I would like to be able to give you guidance because we cannot impact the fisheries. But it would be nice if we could improve the fisheries while reaching your goals. And I am willing to help in any way I can to do that.”
That just so happens to be the focus of the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan (ASRP), which is being implemented in tandem with the pursuit of a dam that would hold back water only when major flooding is imminent or forecast.
The goal is to tackle two growing problems with one unified approach.
It’s an aim that appears to also have the support of Bob Guenther of IBEW Local 77, who noted that the union was front and center in helping to aid residents following the devastating floods of 2007.
“We want to make a decent future for our people, just where they live, not have to move them up on the mountain,” he said.
That approach — simply moving people, businesses and schools to higher ground — has been examined and is largely considered to be impractical, while the construction of a dam has been shown by studies to have the potential to protect more than 1,000 structures from inundation.
Mark Riker, vice president of Washington Building Trades, drew parallels between the catastrophic flooding in the Chehalis River Basin and what he experienced following the deadly 2014 Oso mudslide.
He said, from a labor perspective, he’s on board with a project that could prevent similar harm and destruction in the years to come.
“We want to build our way out of darn near every problem there is,” he said.
Washington State Labor Council President Larry Brown, who was also on the call, echoed that sentiment. He said the labor council will do what it can to support the project.
“We think the bigger help for families would be to create conditions where we aren’t having these floods,” he said.
The addition of more vocal supporters for the basinwide strategy of improving and protecting fish habitat while pursuing the construction of structure that could lessen the impact of chronic flooding is encouraging.
While the concerns of the Chehalis and Quinault tribes over potential impacts on salmon are certainly important and must be addressed, the dual-pronged approach to two major issues will lead to a win-win outcome for both concerns, as ample opportunities exist to mitigate any impacts from the dam.
The fact is, the five largest floods in the history of the basin have all occurred in the last 30 years, a trend experts believe will only intensify with climate change. That’s the case for the struggles of fish runs as well.
We’re encouraged by the support from fishing and labor interests as officials move into the next important phases of efforts to protect both fish and residents of the basin.