Washington Senate Passes Flood Relief Measures

March 13, 2008

Lawmakers approved $50 million in state money to match anticipated federal grants in an initial step to protect a flood-prone area of southwest Washington after last December’s damaging floods.

The money will help fund construction of a yet-to-be-determined final plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect Interstate 5 and the towns near the highway from floods in Lewis County.

The Army Corps drew up a plan to protect Interstate 5 using levees after major floods hit the same region more than 10 years ago. But nothing has been constructed. The debate over the best way to avert future flooding has raged for years, with many local leaders saying the state should do more than just protect the freeway and consider a broader solution to the problem, such as damming.

In response, the language in the bill allows for flexibility in how the money will be used, and talks with the federal government have yielded progress in reconsidering the old flood protection designs, said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia.

Included in the $50 million is $2.5 million to study the options available. The passage of the bill signals to the federal government that the state is ready to put up its share, Alexander said.

No federal money has yet been appropriated for the project, but initial talks called for $75 million, said House Minority Leader Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

During the floods that swept through Lewis and Thurston counties in December, I-5 was closed for days, costing the state millions of dollars. Three major floods have occurred in the Chehalis River Basin during the last 15 years.

“One of the important aspects of this bill is that it defines the relationship (among) the federal, state and local jurisdictions in going forward with various plans,” Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, said during floor debate. “It will look at specific projects in particular areas, but it also will take a look at the entire basin and give us a chance to deal with it on a more comprehensive basis.”

The Senate passed two bills. One earmarking the $50 million toward flood relief passed on an unanimous vote and now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire. Another measure providing the $50 million using state bonds will go back to the House, after minor amendments in the Senate.

The bill appropriating $50 million in flood relief is HB 3375. The bonds bill is HB 3374.

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