Yelm Outlines Legislative Priorities for 2021

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The City of Yelm has four top-priority projects it plans on advocating for when the state Legislature convenes in January. 

City Administrator Michael Grayum laid out the draft list of priorities during a study session the city council hosted on Tuesday, Dec. 1. The projects, while undoubtedly important to Yelm, are also of interest in the broader region and state, he said. 

The priorities include supporting legislation that secures a stable water supply for the city’s future, supports future business and prevents rural sprawl; securing partial funding for the city’s wastewater treatment facility, which when built in the 1990s was a first of sorts for the state of Washington; defending the funding already secured to build the State Route 510 Yelm bypass; and advocating for a funding package for the I-5 Mounts Road to Tumwater project. 

The list will come to the council for a vote at the Dec. 8 meeting. 

While securing line-item funding in state budgets was often seen as challenging for small municipalities in year’s past, this upcoming legislative session will present its own hurdles and challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Legislature at the same time will be looking to resolve budget deficits brought on by the health crisis. 

Some business will still be done at the Capitol campus as usual, though many procedures such as floor votes and committee testimony are expected to take place remotely in order to abide by state social distancing recommendations.

“Obviously, the focus for the Legislature is going to be in dealing with the COVID catastrophe and trying to sow up revenue shortfalls that have come up as a result of the economic impacts from COVID,” Grayum said. “They’re also going to try and do as much as they can on other policy issues, so it makes sense for us to be in there advocating for things that matter most to Yelm residents, businesses and community organizations.” 

The City of Yelm in March voted to move forward on a design agreement to develop a $22.2 million fix for its aging water treatment facility. With that process currently underway, the city is now working on securing funding for the project. 

Mayor JW Foster said the project is expected to be largely paid through a low-rate loan, though the extent to which that loan falls on the city’s ratepayers is not immediately known as the city is still looking at funding options. 

There’s also a reserve fund that should contribute to paying off the project, as well as whatever grants and funding the city can scrape up, Foster said. 

Shortly before the presentation, council member Joe DePinto had recommended the city go out for $1.2 million in funding for the project. While that request might be “ambitious,” Grayum said, the city should try everything to get as much as it can for the project. 

Grayum said the city will also need to be active this January in protecting funds secured for the Yelm Loop bypass project, which is currently in the environmental assessment stage. 

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, a ranking minority member on the House Transportation Committee, told the Yelm City Council back in September that there was a projected $1 billion shortfall in the state transportation budget. 

That revenue shortfall could lead to some projects getting delayed or cut from the budget.   

“Playing defense is the first priority,” Grayum said, also noting the next phase of the bypass project could be delayed due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s delay on construction work for new transportation projects. 

Grayum also said having this important infrastructure in place, as well as three additional roundabouts installed in the Yelm area, should be of regional interest when major I-5 gridlock strikes, spilling traffic onto State Route 510 and through Yelm. 

The city also plans on supporting funding for another transportation project — the Mounts Road to Tumwater I-5 improvement. 

The Nisqually River is currently forming a bend just upstream of the interstate crossing and, according to initial findings from a United States Geologic Survey report, the channel reorientation combined with coastal squeezing could result in substantial flooding over the roadway within the next 20 years. 

The South Sound Military and Communities Partnership has called the developments a “national security risk” due to the interstate’s close proximity to JBLM. 

According to the draft priorities list, the city is considering throwing its weight behind $19 million for three roundabouts in the Yelm area (to help relieve I-5 traffic rerouting through Yelm), $7.5 million for the preliminary design to fix the interstate crossing at the river, and an additional $204 million for a regional South Sound transportation package. 

“This is a project that is ranked high on everybody’s list,” Grayum said. “This is not only something the City of Yelm is advocating for, it’s something that all our regional partners will be advocating for in concert with us.” 

 

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