Quinault Officials Skeptical of Chehalis River Dam
A month-long “scoping” period began Friday as state and federal regulators develop a framework for what will be examined in a pair of environmental impact statements on a proposal to build a dam to control flooding in the Chehalis River basin.
The scoping process is to get public comment on the breadth of the environmental review. The Quinault Indian Nation immediately submitted a series of questions and concerns about the proposed Chehalis River dam, including how much it would cost, who will pay for it and “who will benefit from the dam and who won’t?”
Chehalis River Dam Bad For Salmon Runs?
Quinault officials have been skeptical of the dam and concerned it would be bad for salmon runs and take money away from salmon restoration projects. The scoping input asks that an alternative to a dam be considered, projects that would serve the dual purpose of flood control and habitat improvement for salmon.
“The Quinault Nation appreciates the opportunity to raise questions and concerns about whether a dam is the right choice for the people, communities, fish and wildlife of the Chehalis River Basin,” said Tyson Johnston, Vice-President of the Quinault Indian Nation.
The dam has been proposed in the upper reaches of the Chehalis Basin, near Pe Ell in Lewis County. It has emerged from a basin-wide, multi-county process that started after Chehalis River flooding in 2007 shut down Interstate 5 for three days at Centralia.
Formal Environmental Review Has Started
Formal environmental review of the proposed dam began Friday with a public comment scoping period that ends Oct. 29. The review process provides for public comment and response simultaneously on two separate Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) being prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology.
Two public scoping meetings will be held during the comment period, with one in Montesano, from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 16 at City Hall.
“The dam raises many issues that the Quinault Indian Nation and our basin neighbors must better understand to evaluate whether the dam is the right choice for the people, communities, fish and wildlife of the Chehalis River Basin,” the tribe’s two-page summary states.
Other Quinault questions include:
• How will construction and operation of the dam impact habitat and abundance of salmon and other aquatic species?
• What alternatives are available to address the Chehalis Basin Strategy’s goals of flood damage reduction and habitat restoration throughout the entire basin?
• Can the dam handle anticipated increases in the intensity and frequency of flooding due to climate change?
High Cost of Chehalis River Dam Could Harm Habitat Restoration
The tribe estimates that the cost would likely be nearly $1 billion dollars: “According to a recent budget estimate from the Office of Chehalis Basin, the dam would cost $628 million for permitting, design, engineering, mitigation and construction. A 2014 study of 245 dams in 65 countries, however, shows an average cost overrun of 96 percent for dam building. State funding for the Chehalis Basin Strategy isn’t unlimited. If the dam were built, its high cost may make other flood damage reduction actions and habitat restoration more difficult to fund.”
The Quinault response also contends the dam does little to help other communities within the lower basin.
While the primary purpose of the dam is to “reduce flood peak levels during a 100-year flood or greater from Pe Ell to Centralia,” the tribe said it would “do little to address flood risks for people and property in major portions of the Basin, including the Wynoochee, Satsop, Newaukum and Humptulips river valleys. It’s unclear how much the dam would help communities on the mainstem of the Chehalis River in the lower basin, which includes the communities of Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Elma and Montesano.”
What is the Impact of the Chehalis River Dam on Fish Populations?
Of primary concern to the Quinaults is the impact the dam might have on fish populations, which is addressed through an Aquatic Species Restoration Plan. Citing a 2016 Department of Ecology environmental impact statement on the basin strategy, the tribe notes that impact to salmon and steelhead habitat at the dam site could lead to declines on the Upper Chehalis River of between 17-58 percent, and from 1-4 percent across the entire basin.
The “only action being proposed for environmental review and permitting, however, is building a dam.”
The tribe also wants to ensure there is a guarantee for long-term funding for habitat restoration and protection that “will continue long enough to offset the negative impacts caused by a dam.”
“The environmental review of the dams should clearly, and openly, consider the impact to salmon and aquatic species as a stand-alone alternative,” the Quinault document said.
Alternatives to the Chehalis River Dam Should be Considered
Alternatives to a dam also should be considered “to meet the dual goals of the Chehalis Basin Strategy. Study of alternatives should include flood damage reduction measures beyond just flood-proofing, including conservation and flood easements, voluntary land sales or trades, and land use measures that can reduce flood damage for people and property across the entire basin.”
The other public scoping meeting is from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Bowman Rotary Banquet Room at Centralia College.
For more information on the project, visit online: http://chehalisbasinstrategy.com/eis/eis-resources/
To provide scoping comments online: http://chehalisbasinstrategy.com/eis/comment-form
Comments can be sent by mail to:
Chehalis Flood Damage Reduction Project EIS
Anchor QEA – 720 Olive Way, Suite 1900
Seattle, WA 98101
Reposted by the Quinault Division of Natural Resources