Quinault Indian Nation Opposes Chehalis Dam After Environmental Review


The Quinault Indian Nation on Thursday formally announced its opposition to a proposed dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell, citing “unavoidable” impacts on salmon species and too much focus on flooding in the Centralia and Chehalis area at the expense of the rest of the basin. 

The opinion was based on the state Department of Ecology’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, released in February. 

“Fishing for salmon to nourish and provide for our families is at the core of what it means to be Quinault and is a Treaty right we had to fight for decades to exercise. Extinction is not an option,” said Quinault Nation Vice President Tyson Johnston in a news release. “We are not strangers to the devastating impacts of flooding on communities, infrastructure and safety so we remain committed to finding solutions that reduce the threat of catastrophic floods for the most at-risk communities.”

The Quinault Nation believes the dam would “virtually guarantee” extinction of the runs of spring Chinook and “accelerate the decline of Coho, fall Chinook and Steelhead runs,” according to a news release from the nation. 

J. Vander Stoep, who serves with Johnston on the Chehalis Basin Board, said the conclusions drawn by the EIS do not take into account projects designed to mitigate the negative effects of the dam, which would be required if the project eventually is approved. 

“That’s not the final proposal,” Vander Stoep said. “There’s no question that, just building a dam without mitigating the environmental impacts, that’s just never going to happen.”

The proposed project would only function as a water-retention facility during flooding events. Ecology’s draft EIS concluded that the dam would reduce flooding to the Centralia and Chehalis areas primarily, but would harm salmon species and damage recreation and water quality. 

The EIS didn’t consider specific mitigation options for those issues and didn’t take into account fish-specific projects included in the broader Chehalis Basin Strategy. 

Johnston noted that the EIS examined possible environmental effects from the dam, doing nothing and the effects of small flood reduction projects, but didn’t explore an alternative to the dam on the same scope. 

“It’s time to look at an alternative that can deliver flood damage benefits in an equitable way to communities throughout the Chehalis Basin. We need a Plan B,” said Johnston. 

In a phone call to The Chronicle, Johnston said he thought it was unusual for a project of the magnitude of the dam to get to the point of a draft EIS without specific proposed mitigation for negative effects and said that the Nation was concerned that the dam review has focused on that single track, without an alternative on the same scale being considered. 

“What would a local actions alternative look like at the same size and scope and cost investment basin-wide?” he said. “It’s not typical to see that not be done. I don’t know why the process was released in that way. It’s hard for the Nation to consider this and not come to any conclusion other than what we came to.”

Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund, also a Chehalis Basin Board member, said mitigation for the problems pointed out by the EIS is on the way. 

“There’s more chapters to this story,” she said. “Once this review has been done and all the issues and discussion have been … then it will be our job as the flood control zone district to address those issues.”

Fund is also a member of the regional Chehalis Basin Flood Control Zone District. 

“It clearly says we’ve got some work to do and I know we can do it,” she said, of the EIS. 

Johnston said the tribe will review whatever mitigation options are proposed and said that no matter what decisions are made, and whether or not the dam project goes forward, the Quinault Nation will still be at the table. He also reiterated the Nation’s commitment to finding a solution to both flooding problems and the survival of area salmon species.  

“We would consider mitigation if it was proposed, but it would depend on what context and how it could be applicable to this project,” he said. “I believe we could come up with a solution and a strategy where one doesn’t take away from the other.”

The public comment process on the draft EIS is ongoing. A public hearing was held via webinar on April 2, and a second is scheduled for April 21. Information on how to participate in the April 21 webinar is available at ecology.wa.gov/About-us/Get-to-know-us/Our-Programs/Office-of-Chehalis-Basin

Written comments can be submitted online at chehalisbasinstrategy.com/eis/comment-form/ or to SEPA Draft EIS for Chehalis Flood Damage Reduction Project, c/o Anchor QEA, 1201 Third Ave., Suite 2600, Seattle, WA 98101