Environmental concerns are no stranger to the Grays Harbor region, especially when it comes to flooding.
The Chehalis River basin is the second largest river system in Washington, covering nearly 2,700 square miles of Southwest Washington. Since 2017, more than $48 million in local and state funding has been allocated for 39 flood-hazard reduction projects. Two of those projects based in East County were shown firsthand to a prominent Washington state lawmaker.
Governor Jay Inslee was in attendance, alongside his grandson Brody, on Thursday, July 7, at the Montesano Wastewater Treatment Plant to hear community leaders and organizations discuss the results of a protection project designed to keep the plant safe from floods and erosion. The governor, who made prior stops at the Coastal Community Action Program and the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Fry Creek Pump Station in Aberdeen, was adamant to see the work community leaders were doing to address issues climate change is causing.
Montesano Mayor Vini Samuel and the Chehalis Basin Strategy, which spearheaded the protection project for the plant showcased to the governor the problem they were dealing with and what they did to solve it. The treatment plant was recently awarded “Outstanding Performance” by the Department of Ecology for the fourth consecutive year.
“Back in 2018, the Wynoochee River that runs behind this plant was eroding at around 17 feet a year. The innovative project that occurred here protected the city of Montesano’s wastewater treatment plant and prevented a massive disaster for public health and safety, as well as a disaster for fish and wildlife,” Samuel explained.
According to the Chehalis Basin Strategy, more than 220 river log jacks were installed in 2018-19 around the streambanks of the plant and were designed to mimic the natural processes of flowing water by deflecting the energy of the water and depositing sediment. As a result, aquatic habitats were enhanced and the erosion of the banks receded from the plant site.
“If we chose to do nothing, the wastewater treatment plant would have washed away and would have ended up polluting the Wynoochee River with millions of gallons of raw sewage downstream into Aberdeen, as well as the tribal lands causing a pretty significant ecological disaster,” Samuel said.
Samuel pointed out that the collaboration between local, state, federal, and tribal agencies was timely and cost-efficient noting the project held a relatively small cost of $2 million. She also was quick to say her city of 4,200 people would have no way of paying for emergency cleanup and replacement measures, estimated at more than $40 million if the plant eroded into the river.
After the brief visit to the treatment plant, Inslee was driven to a construction site further up the Wynoochee to view the restoration project occurring on the river.
Celina Abercrombie, who serves as the Chehalis Basin Strategy Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, showcased the work done to initiate several habitat restoration pilot projects in the Chehalis River Basin, which are referred to as Early Action Reach projects. The projects are also committed to the Skookumchuck, Satsop, and Stillman Creek waterways.
“Our goal here is a have a science-based plan designed to restore, rebuild, and protect the Chehalis River Basin to support a productive ecosystem that is resilient to impacts of climate change,” Abercrombie said. “This work takes multiple parties coming together to collaborate and work with our willing landowners to be successful.”
Abercrombie noted the highlights from the Early Action reach projects of 1.25 miles restored of river habitat, 116 acres treated for invasive plants, and the construction of 63 engineered log jams among other things. As part of the tour, the governor was shown work done to relocate a home to higher land that was affected by floods and erosion.
Following the presentation of the Early Action Reach project for the Wynoochee River, Inslee expressed his satisfaction with the environmental work being done in Grays Harbor for a number of reasons, before ending his travel through the county and making his way back to Olympia.
“I’m super impressed with what the local community in the Harbor is doing for a variety of reasons. Number one is super collaboration. Everyone is working together from landowners, the Department of Ecology, to local mayors,” Inslee said.
“Number two, people are making decisions based on science, not mythology, not ideology, just science. Third, we’re doing good things for economic development, which we know is so critical in the Harbor. When you make infrastructure investments, you’re building jobs. From soup to nuts, the Harbor is doing some great work, so it’s been a good day.”