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To prevent flooding, wall goes up around Monte wastewater plant

During the 2007 storm, flood waters came within half a foot of breaching the city of Montesano’s sewer lagoons. If the flood waters had come much higher, fecal matter and sludge could have contaminated the Chehalis River and headed downriver to the communities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

“It would have been a disaster, a complete disaster,” Montesano Mayor Ken Estes said. “We were all very lucky.”

Earlier this month, Stellar J. Corp out of Woodinville began a construction project to place giant interlocking vinyl boards to serve as a flood barrier between the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the nearby rivers. Estes says that the protection goes six inches higher than a 500-year flood event.

“We appreciate you not sending anything downriver to us,” said Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines, who serves as chairwoman of the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority.

The Flood Authority provided the funds via a state grant to make the flood protections around the wastewater treatment plant possible. This summer, flood protections will also be installed around the Mary’s River Lumber Mill, which is nearby on the banks of the Chehalis River. The 2007 flood was the closest flood to reach the wastewater treatment plant since it was built some 25 years ago.

Community Development Director Mike Wincewicz notes that besides the flooding issues, the treatment plant also faces erosion issues. In 2005, the city installed protections near the Wynooche River side of the treatment plant. At that point, the riverbank was 160-some feet away. Today, the riverbank is right near the wall that was built.

Engineer Steve Schmitz, on contract for the city of Montesano, said that a 10-foot long, interlocking vinyl wall is being driven into the ground on all sides of the wastewater treatment plant. The sheets are going in between four and a half to six feet.

“They are driving these sheets down as far as they can,” Schmitz said, adding that sometimes rocks have had to be pulled out. “It’s pretty challenging to drive a vinyl sheet through rip-rap so there’s been some slowdowns in that regard. … We drive these sheets in all the way in at the same elevation and put a nice alumnimum cap on it when we’re done with it.”

The project is expected to be complete by the end of April.

While the vinyl sheets came from Georgia, larger metal steel sheets had to be built in Luxemburg. Those metal sheets were ordered in the fall and should arrive in a couple of months. Work at Mary’s River is slated to start in June.

Stellar J. won the low bid to do the work at a little over $4.6 million. Mayor Estes said the bid was low enough, coupled with the costs on design and engineering, that the city will likely turn back about $400,000 to the Flood Authority. Before Estes joined the Flood Authority when he was elected in 2011, the city really wasn’t aggressively pursuing a way to fix the flooding problems.

“I made it a priority and I was able to convince my fellow Flood Authority members that this was a priority,” Estes said.

In August, Wishkah resident Frank Kirsch and Raines both agreed to give up state funds that had been allocated to their flood protection projects in order to help fund the Montesano projects.

Kirsch has been fighting for the funding to fix a flooding issue just outside the city limits of Aberdeen on Wishkah Road. The road becomes impassable during strong rainy spells and nearby homes also are flooded. Raines had been looking for funds to fix Mill Creek Dam. The dam had breached some years before and Raines has been searching high and low for some way to get the funds to fix it. Once complete, it’ll prevent flooding along the creek that affects local neighborhoods.

Legislators had agreed to provide the funds to fix those projects, but the state Legislature adjourned without actually passing the capital budget, which would have given more than $5 million for flood protections for the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority.

“Hopefully, the designs and engineering will all be done so we can make sure the funding is there,” said state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.

“We’re just going to move forward, get the designs done and hopefully the money will be there next year,” Raines said.

“I’m told it’s the first time in 20 years that the capital budget wasn’t approved, Blake said. “It was just really unusual.”

Usually, the budget whizzes through with bipartisan and nearly unanimous support. Not this year, where Blake said a dispute broke out over whether the state should pay for a new building for the Washington State Patrol. That was the cherry on top of a debate over several uses of the fund in disagreements between the Democrats in the House and the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate made up of Republicans and a couple conservative Democrats.

Authority members may be mourning the loss of their funding, but they still have funding in other areas. Authority facilitator Jim Kramer told the group that some funds had been set aside last year that still needs to be spent looking at smaller flood retention projects to determine what benefits could be had if they were put in place. Staff and Flood Authority members are working on criteria to narrow down an assortment of projects so they can figure out the best projects to work on. Several projects in Lewis County ranked the highest to improve drainage on streets and overflow areas in the first attempts to work on the list. But restoring an old channel of the Chehalis River outside Montesano also ranked high. Mayor Ken Estes noted that the channel is aiming the river “like a fire hose” right at the banks of Mary’s River lumber mill, which is set to get bank improvements this summer.

Other restoration projects on Fry Creek for Aberdeen, a subdivision flooding issue for Oakville and replacing a wastewater treatment outflow pipe for the city of Elma were also on the list.