Inslee suggests $5 million for flood projects

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Centralia — In what local leaders describe as a show of good faith, Gov. Jay Inslee has included in his 2014 supplemental budget $5 million for Chehalis Basin flood mitigation projects.

The money will be used to replace funds that were removed from projects in Cosmopolis and Grays Harbor County and transferred to a project in Montesano. It also will cover some expenses associated with the Chehalis airport levee project.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, previously had said they were committed to helping find money for the projects. The governor's support, however, came as a surprise.

Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority chair Vickie Raines said it is gratifying to have locals' teamwork recognized by Inslee.

"It's a true testament to see that he was willing to put that in the budget," Raines said Thursday, at the group's monthly meeting. "It's pretty exciting we've been able to make such progress in the last few years and to really see the fruits of our labor get done.

"We should be grateful to the governor, but also applaud the Flood Authority and the Governor's Work Group."

The work group, which helps create policy and acts as a liaison to Olympia, last year helped secure $28.2 million for small- and large-scale flooding projects, including a Montesano project intended to mitigate catastrophic flood damage at Mary's River Lumber, an employer that provides more than 100 local jobs, and the city's wastewater treatment plant.

Both the Legislature and the Flood Authority, fully supported the project, which began without incident.

That changed when its engineering estimate came in $4 million over the estimated cost.

At its August meeting, the flood authority agreed to rearrange its planned budget to help complete the project.

When funded, Montesano could begin construction right away, and completing Montesano would provide immediate protection to locals, the Flood Authority reasoned.

The other projects - Wishkah, Mill Creek and Satsop - required further engineering and permitting before construction could begin. And, even with the transfer of funds there remained enough money for engineering design and permits to proceed as planned.

"Now I can go to sleep at night, knowing that we did the right thing," Raines said Thursday.

The Washington state Legislature on June 29 passed and delivered to the governor for signature a State Capital Budget that included $28.2 million for catastrophic flood relief in the Chehalis Basin.

Inslee, who signed the budget, previously issued his support for the Chehalis Work Group's funding request: $9.2 million for the study and design of a dam and other long-term projects to improve Interstate 5; $10.7 million for local flood protection projects; $4.4 million for projects that reduce flooding while benefitting fish; $1.75 million for reducing damage to residences and other structures in the floodplain; $1.2 million for operation of the basin program and for project management; and $950,000 for state agency technical assistance and project permitting.

The vast majority of that money has been appropriated and obligated to contracts, Flood Authority facilitator Jim Kramer said Thursday.

One hundred percent of the $5 million in Jobs Now Act money awarded in 2012 has been obligated.

In November, the Flood Authority and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation requested $100 million in state funding for Interstate 5 flood protection.

In a letter to the governor, Raines and Chehalis Chairman David Burnett asked that the Legislature include the money in its next transportation package.

Raines and Burnett emphasized in the letter that they do not support an "I-5 only" protection plan.

"But we do strongly support a strategy that will include I-5 protection and protection of state Route 6 and U.S. Highway 12 as parts of a basin wide solution to damage from catastrophic flooding," they wrote. "With that, we support inclusion. in (the) next transportation package of $100 million as identified by WSDOT for I-5 protection."

The money could fund several strategies intended to protect the state transportation system in the Chehalis Basin.

This request is separate of the $5 million endorsed by Inslee.