Trust key issue for flood group

Flooding: Feuding may lead to loss of future funding for Chehalis River Basin authority

April 4, 2011 

Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority members are attempting to overcome internal strife as the group tries to figure out where and how to move forward.

The problem? The members of the 11-jurisdiction body don’t trust one another.

County members – including Thurston – don’t trust the intentions of other county members, while municipalities – including Bucoda – distrust the counties’ motives.

“There’s obviously some contention,” said Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines, who has taken the place of Montesano Mayor Ron Schillinger on the authority. “We need to rebuild some relationships.”

The authority spent the first two hours of a workshop Thursday hashing through unfavorable comments about Lewis County and its development practices by residents and Grays Harbor County Commissioner Terry Willis at a recent public meeting in Grays Harbor County.

“I just felt that Lewis County didn’t seem like a partner …” said Edna Fund, representative for the City of Centralia, adding that Lewis County is constantly viewed as the scapegoat for flooding throughout the basin. “Why do we want to form this multijurisdictional flood authority if everyone is not pulling together, or if we’re seen as not as up to date as others?”

Willis said her comments were not meant to be an attack on Lewis County, but an attempt to gather opinions from an unsupportive base.

“There are things that are going on that we don’t approve of, and building in the floodplain’s one of them,” she said. “It’s not as if this is a surprise. … I have constituents that say loudly that if (Lewis County) keeps putting buildings in the floodplain, they don’t want to pay for it.”

City members voiced their concerns at the special work session about the formation of a tri-county flood taxing district whose commissioners would have most of the control of when and how to tax and collect fees. Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties each would have one seat, while the municipalities throughout the Chehalis River Basin would share two.

“If you don’t have the trust, it’s not going to work,” said Julie Balmelli-Powe, representative for the City of Chehalis. “And we don’t have that trust right now. All of us want a solution, but at this time, it’s not going to work with just three counties. It’s going to have to be bigger and have more representation.”

Thurston and Grays Harbor counties have yet to formulate enough support to form their own individual flood taxing districts.

Some in the audience questioned whether the group should even form a tri-county flood-control zone district linked through interlocal agreements, parsing through Gov. Chris Gregoire’s $1.32 million appropriation in her proposed budget.

Lewis County Commissioner Ron Averill said it was clear after the group was criticized for wasting time and money from last year’s Legislature that the intent was to form a permanent successor to the flood authority by the end of June.

The Legislature gave the authority $500,000 for that sole purpose in last year’s capital budget.

“We thought we’d be a lot farther along,” Averill said. “And it’s clear we’re not even close.”

The setbacks may jeopardize future funding for the flood authority.

“I think the Legislature has been very clear that if the flood authority doesn’t speak with a clear voice and doesn’t have a plan, the money will go away,” said Bruce Mackey, lead agent with the authority’s chief consultant, ESA Adolfson, during the workshop. “And I’ve been told to report back to the Legislature after this meeting, and I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what I’m going to tell them.”

The group will hold its second meeting in several months later in April in an attempt to repair the group’s strained relationships.

But time is running out, and some are worried the public might be losing faith in the authority.

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