Staff and members of the Chehalis River Flood Basin Control Zone District tour the site of the proposed dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell in late 2017.

State and federal regulators are beginning work on the outline of their environmental reviews for a proposed flood-control dam on the Chehalis River near Pe Ell and levee project — a process that’s moving ahead despite the partial shutdown of the federal government. 

“The Defense Department’s fully funded, so the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers is not affected by the lapse in funding,” said Patricia Graesser, public affairs supervisor for the Corps’ Seattle office. “That does not affect our process or timeline.”

The Corps has yet to put out its summary of the scoping period that ran from Sept. 28 to Oct. 29 last year. The Washington State Department of Ecology put out its scoping report — covering a process conducted in partnership with the Corps — in December. 

The scoping comment period sought public input for the parameters of the dam’s environmental review. With those comments assembled in its summary document, Ecology expects to determine which suggestions to include in the environmental review by February.

“That’s what I think will be most important,” said Curt Hart, communications manager with the department. “That will look at what should be in the draft (environmental review).”

The draft environmental reviews from the federal and state agencies are not expected to be completed until early 2020.

The scoping and environmental review process is designed to explore the effects of a proposed flood-retention dam near Pe Ell, a structure that would allow the Chehalis River to flow normally most of the time but close its gates to store water and create a temporary reservoir during flooding conditions. The project would also raise the levee at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport by 4 to 7 feet. 

That proposal has been put forward by the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District, which has been in contact with the agencies throughout the review process.

“The Corps has been communicating with us,” said Erik Martin, the district’s administrator. “I assume they are still operating (during the shutdown).”

Martin said he had skimmed Ecology’s scoping summary, but had not had a chance to take a thorough look at the comments yet. None of Lewis County’s commissioners — who also serve as supervisors for the district — had reviewed the document as of Monday morning. 

The Corps has not yet put out its summary of the scoping period, but since the agency conducted that process in tandem with Ecology, it’s likely the documents will be similar. According to the state, that period produced 265 public comments, submitted via online forms, email, mailed letters or in person at public meetings.

Feedback included comments from the Chehalis and Quinault Tribes, Lewis County commissioners, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. More than 20 businesses and organizations also submitted comments, many of them environmental groups. 

The comments were wide-ranging, with some saying the dam project would benefit only the upper Chehalis basin and corporate interests, neglecting other communities. Others called for a greater commitment to habitat restoration. Some commenters asked the agencies to look at restoring floodplain as an alternative measure. Many comments focused on salmon, from habitat to spawning to fish passage at the dam.

Ecology has already determined several elements will review in its environmental survey. They include: climate change, cultural resources, environmental health and safety, fish and wildlife, geology and soils, land use, public services and utilities, recreation, transportation, tribal resources, water quality, water resources and wetlands and vegetation. 

The Corps is still putting together its own analysis, Graesser said.

“We’re reviewing comments,” she said. “The information that was published in the (state) scoping report, that’s all relevant to the (federal) side because we held joint meetings. We’re in the process of reviewing comments, developing scope and alternatives, purpose and need statements.”

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