Politics & Government

Fate of Capitol Lake in hands of state

OLYMPIA - Capitol Lake should be converted into an estuary, an advisory committee that has met for about five years recommended Thursday to state General Administration Director Linda Bremer.

The Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan Steering Committee formally handed off its work to General Administration department. It was a “very monumental day,” as the committee’s chair, Tumwater Councilman Neil McClanahan, put it.

But it will be years before the issue is resolved. The state Capitol Committee will have to consider the recommendation, and state and likely federal money would be necessary for a solution in dire economic times. And funding comes through the state Legislature.

Bremer said her biggest concern is there’s not likely to be any funding in the 2011 to 2013 time frame. That puts the state in the 2013 to 2015 time frame.

“Ideally, we will find something... that moves us closer to that final outcome,” she said.

But Lisa Venerosa, a representative of the state Fish and Wildlife Department, said federal grant money is available for an estuary, but she’s not aware of funding for a managed lake.

The problem: Capitol Lake has only been partly dredged twice in the last 30 years, and is filling up with sediment and weeds.

The Capitol Lake committee, better known by its acronym of CLAMP, examined four possible outcomes — allow the lake to fill with sediments, manage the existing lake, restore the estuary or create a dual-basin lake/estuary hybrid.

Five of the nine committee members said they favor removing the Fifth Avenue Dam and allowing the area to return to an estuary, as it was before 1951. Estuary proponents say their option would improve water quality, re-establish habitat for plants and animals that thrive in estuaries and be less expensive than maintaining a lake.

The Squaxin Island tribe and the state departments of Natural Resources, Ecology and Fish and Wildlife support the estuary. The Thurston County Commission voted 2-1 in favor of an estuary.

The Olympia City Council isn’t taking a firm position. The council has forwarded 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.

But Tumwater and the Port of Olympia representatives have opposed the estuary option.

Port representatives say they’re concerned about cost sharing and sediment management.

All three port commissioners wrote in a letter that the economic effects have not been fully or accurately calculated. They say an estuary wouldn’t significantly improve water quality and fear the state is “transferring its obligations for lake management to Thurston County residents.”

The Tumwater City Council voted 4-3 in favor of the lake. But McClanahan has said that his council might reconsider if their major concerns are addressed — which include protecting the old Olympia brewhouse and Tumwater Historical Park and equitably sharing dredging costs. McClanahan personally supports the estuary.

General Administration representatives have attended the meetings but are neutral on the issue.

Bremer praised the committee’s work on the issue and asked them to give highlights of their thoughts, but she did not tip her hand how she feels about the lake-estuary question.

Olympia Councilman Joe Hyer said it’s clear to him that the public prefers a lake, but he now questions why a lake was even given as an option because it wouldn’t improve water quality, one of the committee’s charges.

“We can have an unhealthy lake or we can have an estuary,” he said.

Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela said “people have expressed a deep, nostalgic attachment to Capitol Lake.” But she said the decision came down to “whether or not we could have a healthy Capitol Lake.”

Port Commissioner Bill McGregor also mentioned the public’s attachment to the aesthetics of the lake. “That’s a huge part of the study that maybe wasn’t given as much value as the rest of it.”

But of 409 people who wrote or e-mailed the state during a public comment period, 75 percent of letter-writers and 86 percent of e-mailers supported the estuary alternative during the “alternative analysis period,” according to a state report.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869