OLYMPIA – The Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan Steering Committee agreed Thursday to formally recommend that Capitol Lake revert to an estuary, the culmination of more than five years of debate.
The committee will present the recommendation to state General Administration director Linda Bremer in a meeting on either Sept. 3 or a date yet to be scheduled. After that, the state Capitol Commitee will consider the recommendation. Legislative and federal support also would be needed for the recommendation to be implemented.
Group members mostly came to their conclusions during a July retreat, but they finalized a written report Thursday. The committee includes members of state agencies and the Squaxin Island tribe, as well as representatives of the Port of Olympia Commission, Thurston County Commission and Olympia and Tumwater city councils.
“We are here for a very important meeting,” said Neil McClanahan, chairman of the committee and a Tumwater council member.
Five of the nine members of the committee have said they favor removing the Fifth Avenue Dam and letting the lake revert to tideflats. The lake was an estuary until 1951.
The Squaxin Island tribe and the state departments of Natural Resources, Ecology and Fish and Wildlife support creating an estuary. The Thurston County Commission also voted 2-1 in favor of an estuary.
The Olympia City Council is sitting on the fence for now, forwarding the state a list of issues and concerns about both the lake and the estuary options. The council’s representative, Joe Hyer, has voiced support for an estuary.
Tumwater and the Port of Olympia representatives have opposed the estuary option.
Port of Olympia representatives have concerns about cost sharing and sediment management. All three port commissioners wrote in a letter that the economic impacts have not been fully or accurately calculated. They say the estuary doesn’t significantly improve water quality and that they fear the state is “transferring its obligations for lake management to Thurston County residents.”
The port “cannot support moving forward with an estuary without a much higher degree of confidence that a selected alternative will benefit our communities as well as the environment,” they wrote.
The Tumwater City Council voted 4-3 to support the lake. But McClanahan said council members might reconsider if their major concerns are addressed – including protecting the old Olympia brewhouse and Tumwater Historical Park and equitablly sharing dredging costs. McClanahan supports the estuary option.
General Administration representatives have attended the meetings but are neutral on the issue.
The support for an estuary is a marked change from five years ago, when the committee was more evently split about the issue.
After the committee forwards its recommendation to General Administration, the recommendation will be considered by the state Capitol Commitee. Legislative and federal support would be needed for the recommendation to be implemented.
Supporters say an estuary would improve water quality and return the environment closer to its natural state. They also like the aesthetics of an estuary, which mostly would be full but revert to mudflats twice a day, during low tide.
Lake supporters enjoy the look of a lake and are concerned that mudflats would be unsightly and smelly. Boaters worry that sediment would pile up at their lower Budd Inlet marina and affect their moorage.
Lake proponents have a slight edge over estuary supporters in 118 public comments that General Administration has received, spokesman Steve Valandra said in an e-mail. Chief concerns are about the need to:
• Prevent flooding.
• Restore a natural setting and help wildlife.
• Maintain a viable park/lake setting for the public.
Some commenters also said the state should “make a firm decision and quit spending money on studies,” Valandra said.
Also in question is what will happen with the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Steering Committee. Its role and scope are unclear. McClanahan said he hopes for it to shift gears to study the greater cleanup of Budd Inlet. He said the group will meet at least quarterly; it had been meeting monthly.
“I ... do not want to see this momentum and this incredible resource go away,” McClanahan said about the committee.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869