Here’s our wish­list for Thurston County

The Olympian - - Opinion - BY THE OLYMPIAN ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

We wel­come leg­is­la­tors and their staff to Olympia for what will surely be a long and ar­du­ous bud­get-writ­ing ses­sion. We’re proud to be the cap­i­tal city, not only be­cause the capi­tol is beau­ti­ful and the leg­is­la­tors pa­tron­ize our restau­rants, but be­cause it’s so handy for us to lobby them on all our lo­cal is­sues.

Heaven knows we have is­sues: Lacey, Tumwa­ter, Olympia, and Thurston County each have leg­isla­tive wish lists, as well as a list of shared pri­or­i­ties.

Some of the city pri­or­i­ties are purely lo­cal. For in­stance, Tumwa­ter is ask­ing for fund­ing to re­store the 1906 brew­ery tower and to pre­serve a his­toric ceme­tery; Lacey wants money for a mu­seum and civic cen­ter. All our lo­cal gov­ern­ments sup­port a $4 mil­lion re­quest for a re­gional first re­spon­der train­ing cen­ter. And there are a host of other im­por­tant re­quests that cer­tainly de­serve at­ten­tion dur­ing this 105-day ses­sion.

But right out of the gate, we see two is­sues merit im­me­di­ate dis­cus­sion.

First, we are very sad to see that among all our lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, only Olympia’s wish list calls for more state re­sources to ad­dress home­less­ness, men­tal health, and ad­dic­tion. Tumwa­ter and Thurston County say not a sin­gle word on these top­ics. Lacey’s wish list in­cludes, as item six on a six-item list, a re­quest for leg­isla­tive per­mis­sion to use lo­cal bond funds to in­vest in af­ford­able hous­ing, but doesn’t men­tion home­less­ness.

This is symp­to­matic of the per­cep­tion that the prob­lem of home­less­ness is Olympia’s alone, and not a re­gional prob­lem. The lack of lo­cal sup­port from Olympia’s neigh­bors on this is­sue is in­de­fen­si­ble.

All our lo­cal cities are af­fected by home­less­ness, and all are sub­ject to the fed­eral 9th Cir­cuit Court’s rul­ing that for­bids them from evict­ing tent camps from pub­lic prop­erty un­less they have in­door shel­ter beds avail­able. This court or­der places the heav­i­est fi­nan­cial bur­den for al­le­vi­at­ing home­less­ness on the small­est units of gov­ern­ment with the least re­sources. Surely all lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the county should be part of a loud cho­rus call­ing for more state help to com­ply with the court’s de­ci­sion.

A sec­ond is­sue that de­serves a higher pro­file is a re­quest for $4.5 mil­lion in the state trans­porta­tion bud­get to take the next steps for up­grad­ing the I-5 cor­ri­dor from Dupont through Tumwa­ter. This is sup­ported by the Nisqually Tribe, Lacey, and Thurston County.

The most crit­i­cal stretch of free­way runs through the Nisqually Val­ley, where I-5 acts as a huge dam across the Nisqually and McAl­lis­ter Creek es­tu­ary. The free­way bridge across the Nisqually River restricts it to a nar­row, un­nat­u­ral chan­nel. In the past, this con­stric­tion in the river has caused big floods up­stream from the free­way. But as the river bends and changes course up­stream, the next big flood may ac­tu­ally un­der­mine the free­way and wash some or all of it away on the Pierce County side of the bridge.

By damming the es­tu­ary, the free­way also con­trib­utes to the star­va­tion of en­dan­gered or­cas. Ac­cord­ing to David Troutt, nat­u­ral re­sources di­rec­tor for the Nisqually Tribe, in­creas­ing runs of South Sound Chi­nook salmon is the sec­ond high­est pri­or­ity for sav­ing res­i­dent or­cas.

The Nisqually Tribe has in­vested decades of ef­fort in restor­ing their Chi­nook pop­u­la­tion. But as the sea level be­gins to rise, salt­wa­ter is flow­ing fur­ther into the es­tu­ary, re­duc­ing this crit­i­cal habi­tat. Free­ing the river from its nar­row chan­nel and al­low­ing it to spread out is the only way this habi­tat can be saved. Free­ing the rivers to me­an­der is also vi­tal to the con­tin­ual re­newal of the es­tu­ary with sed­i­ment from up­stream.

The so­lu­tion is to lift the free­way on pil­ings – to make it, in ef­fect, a cause­way over the val­ley floor. This is, to be sure, an ex­pen­sive un­der­tak­ing, but in the con­text of plan­ning up­grades that will likely in­clude more lanes, the state is al­ready look­ing at a very big price tag. And as we look at the cost and ex­tent of re­cent free­way con­struc­tion through Ta­coma, this project doesn’t seem out of scale.

In the past two years, ini­tial plan­ning has been fi­nanced by a half mil­lion dol­lars in state fund­ing, sup­ple­mented by $150,000 from the Nisqually Tribe and $50,000 from the Thurston Re­gional Plan­ning Coun­cil. The next step is more de­tailed de­sign work and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment. If this could be in­cluded in the state trans­porta­tion bud­get in the next bi­en­nium, it might be pos­si­ble to be­gin con­struc­tion in the bi­en­nium that fol­lows.

The Nisqually Tribe and its many part­ners have worked hard to re­store the Nisqually water­shed and its salmon habi­tat. Troutt points out that this free­way project could be­come a model for the fu­ture re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of I-5 cross­ings of other rivers – and over time, a big con­trib­u­tor to the restora­tion of salmon, im­proved prospects for orca re­cov­ery, and a health­ier Puget Sound.

PETER HA­LEY Olympian file photo

The In­ter­state 5 bridges over the Nisqually River serve as a dam that causes prob­lems for the es­tu­ary and its fish.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.