Chehalis Basin flood funding bill beats legislative buzzer

By Colton Dodgson

The Chronicle

A bill that would fund flood damage reduction and habitat restoration in the Chehalis River Basin passed through the House and Senate on Thursday night, after a conclusion involving much negotiation.

Instead of the set figure of $700 million that would’ve been issued over 20 years proposed in the House’s final version, the approved bill refers to “specificity” being needed for consideration of the long-term funding needs, rather than setting aside an actual amount. The disbursement of funds for each project is determined by a strategy that includes “an implementation schedule and quantified measures for evaluating the success of implementation.”

The plan is due by Jan. 1, 2021, but Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund says the office already has a head start.

“It’s the Chehalis Basin Strategy, so we’ve got a lot of dates and implementation tests that are involved in that,” Fund said. “It’s going to be, until next year, we’ll have that. We’re supposed to have a meeting with the fiscal and the policy side of the legislature to say what we’ve been doing. Those are some of the ‘to-do’s’ and look forward to getting those ‘to-do’s’ done so we can move forward.”

Upon submission, the legislature has 120 days to schedule a joint hearing for the purpose of “potential funding strategies to achieve the implementation schedule.”

The office of the Chehalis Basin also has the remainder of the $73.2 million issued for the current biennium, which started in 2019, for more current projects. Fund pointed out that she appreciated the final line in Section 1, Item 3 of the amendment, where the legislature’s intention to continue funding projects for the Chehalis River Basin is mentioned.

“That’s a really good sign,” Fund said.

As of Wednesday night, the House and the Senate appeared to be at odds over the bill. The Senate pushed for the amendments, that ultimately passed, while the House was opposed to amending the bill. Ultimately, the amended bill was unanimously passed by the Senate on third reading and received a 95-to-1 vote in the House.

The bill was the final legislation from Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. He said the arguments surrounding the bill were centered around the “pre-authorized bond language,” that would be used for disbursement of the money. He added the Senate was reluctant toward the bill due to the authorization of bonds on a “simple vote.” He thinks that won’t be the case moving forward.

According to DeBolt, the funding is not contingent upon the plan submitted by the office of the Chehalis River.

“You have to put a list out, so we can see what projects the money is going for before we just give money,” DeBolt said. “They (the legislation) just need to see what projects are being worked on and what the timelines are so they can understand what the funding levels will be in the future.”

Additionally, the office of the Chehalis basin received a taxable account with the Washington state Treasury.

While the bill might not have passed in its original form, Fund still celebrated the passing.

“It was really nice when we had the $700 million, but, you know, as in all legislative sessions, things change,” Fund said. “Amendments are added and changed, so I’m glad we had a live bill, (the bill) spelled out that we’re faithfully carrying out the prime directives, we’ve got a taxable account, we’ve got some things to pull together before then (Jan. 1, 2021) and we have money to do what we need to do right now.”

For DeBolt, it was a fulfilling conclusion.

“It was my last bill and I think it was almost the last bill of the night,” DeBolt said. “It was my last session, so it was kind of nostalgic and I feel like it’s got my community in the right place. When we move forward on a project, it will get funded, so I feel good about that.”