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Aberdeen councilman almost derailed efforts to save Mary’s River

An Aberdeen City Councilman almost derailed efforts to help prevent continued erosion issues along the Chehalis River behind the Mary’s River Lumber plant in Montesano last week.

The Chehalis River Flood Authority was delegated $28.2 million to help solve flooding issues around the basin, with specific dollar amounts slated to go to various projects. As it turns out, a few of those projects will cost more than the funds allocated to it.

To help solve that problem, Flood Authority Chair Vickie Raines proposed that the group re-organize the funds to ensure that a shovel-ready project like the erosion-control project at Mary’s River Lumber and the nearby city-owned wastewater treatment plant get funds.

Raines proposed transferring $1.5 million of funds allocated for the Mill Creek Dam improvements at Cosmopolis, $510,000 of Satsop flood restoration funds and $1.952 million for a flood levee at Wishkah Road outside Aberdeen to all be diverted to help fully fund a revetment along the Chehalis River in Montesano. The revetment already had $2 million budgeted for it, but the actual cost to do the work was about $6 million, according to Montesano Mayor Ken Estes.

Raines said that of the four Grays Harbor projects, it was the only one shovel ready. The other projects would be looked at for permitting processes and will, hopefully, get more money next year, Raines said. She noted there still remains some funds for those projects to work on permits.

Aberdeen Councilman Jim Cook, the official representative for the city of Aberdeen, spent nearly half an hour arguing that the money for the Wishkah Road project should be left alone. The road continues to flood during the stormy season and neighbors have been working to fix it for years. However, the project would have cost in excess of $5 million to complete — and only half of the funds were allocated.

“We can’t just sit here on two pots of money and say we don’t have enough so we’re not going to do anything,” Raines told Cook.

Because the Flood Authority works on a consensus basis, all of the Flood Authority members had to be in favor of the transfer before it could move forward. As a holdout vote, Cook had veto power over the issue.

“The actual operation at Mary’s River burned down a year and a half ago to the best of my knowledge and they’re not at full operation now anyway,” Cook argued. “And this benefits specifically the city of Montesano. Their waste treatment plant is to the highest priority as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for protecting their infrastructure. But protecting their business endeavors is less a concern to me.”

Other Flood Authority members disagreed with Cook’s line of thinking.

”I think it’s very important for us now that we’ve got this money to do something to make the biggest impacts as quick as possible to show that we aren’t just another one of these groups that will meet and just kick the can down the road,” added Arnold Haberstroh, the Flood Authority representative with the city of Chehalis. “I think it’s responsible for us to get out there and help save some jobs in that industry.”

”We’re not only making sure we get a very important project done from an economic standpoint in Montesano, but we’re also preserving those old projects and not putting them in limbo,” said former Lewis County commissioner Ron Averill, who represents Centralia on the Flood Authority.

”Do you realize if the money is just left for the Wishkah Road project it will just sit there?” Raines told Cook. “They don’t have enough money.”

Cook said he didn’t really care, noting he was “skeptical about removing funding for it so we can get some later” and noting it should be more of a priority for the Flood Authority than the Mary’s River Lumber project.

Cook wouldn’t change his mind despite even more debate until Raines called for the support of two property owners, who own homes along Wishkah Road and would be impacted by the flooding issues. Both said they supported diverting funding to Mary’s River. It was only then that Cook changed his mind and voted for the fund transfer.

Mayor Estes said he hopes to move forward with the erosion-control issue as soon as possible.