Washington Gov. Jay Inslee participated in a driving tour Tuesday morning on the levee above the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge to learn about a $22 million habitat restoration and flood-control project expected to create more than 440 temporary jobs.
Some of the refuge is located inside the city limits of Washougal, and current plans call for a reconfiguration of the Port of Camas-Washougal’s existing levee system, by constructing two setback levees perpendicular to the Columbia River, north-south, at the same elevation as the current levee height — seven feet above the 500-year flood elevation.
According to information provided by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, the reconfiguration would reduce flood risk, reconnect 912 acres of Columbia River floodplain and increase recreation opportunities at the refuge. The removal of 2.2 miles of the existing levee, constructed in 1965, would improve salmon habitat.
Officials expect that the reconfigured levee will help protect the Washougal wastewater treatment plant, located at 3900 SR-14, from flooding and reduce the amount of money the port pays to Clark Public Utilities for pumping excess water from Gibbons Creek.
Construction is expected to begin in 2019.
The Bonneville Power Administration will provide approximately $17 million for the habitat restoration and flood control project. Funding also will come from a $4.6 million Washington State Department of Ecology Floodplains by Design grant.
On Tuesday, Inslee met with Kevin Gorman, executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and Debrah Marriott, executive director of the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, as well as additional Estuary Partnership representatives, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard and Port of Camas-Washougal Executive Director David Ripp.
Marriott said the project will employ 440 people during the construction phase, for about two to three years.
“Many of the jobs will entail construction contractors for components such as reconfiguring the levee — backhoe workers, for one — contractors rebuilding Highway 14, building the two new north-south levees and building the new parking lot,” she said.
Gorman said the Friends of the Columbia Gorge is in the final stages of purchasing 160 acres of privately owned land abutting the refuge for $1.8 million. The land purchase will allow the Friends to extend an existing hiking trail and protect nearly a mile of river shoreline.
The Friends have raised $3.5 million, primarily through private donations as part of a $5.5 million “Preserve the Wonder” seven-property, land-acquisition campaign. The local land will be named Steigerwald Shores.
The Friends hope to raise the remaining $2 million over the next year.
Fifty-eight acres of Cape Horn Vista and 25 acres known as Lyle Peak are included in the Preserve the Wonder campaign.
“Of these properties, some we will hold in perpetuity, others we plan to transfer to agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which owns the refuge, has put “Steigerwald Shores” on its acquisition priority list, according to Gorman.
“We are willing to hold the property as long as necessary and if the agency can eventually acquire it, those proceeds will be used for future acquisitions and stewardship on the 1,000-plus acres we do own in the Columbia Gorge,” he said.
The next Friends of the Columbia Gorge get-together to discuss the Preserve the Wonder campaign and other conservation issues and recreation programs, will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday, May 18, at 54-40 Brewing Company, 3801 S. Truman Road, No. 1, Washougal. Additional information is available at https://gorgefriends.org/ways-to-give/preserve-the-wonder.html.
Governor addresses oil train safety
Before starting his tour of the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge Tuesday morning, Inslee responded to a question regarding the safety of the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal project at the Port of Vancouver, which could bring trains carrying 360,000 barrels of crude oil through Camas and Washougal daily.
Inslee said he has been very concerned about the safety of crude oil trains — even before the June 3, 2016 oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon. which saw 16 tanker cars carrying explosive Bakken crude oil derail in sensitive Gorge habitat. Four of the tanker cars caught fire, releasing an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the environment. The cars were part of a 96-car train transporting oil to Tacoma.
No one was injured in the derailment and damage was minor, but contaminants entered the Columbia River and environmental experts later said the derailment could have been much worse if the wind and other weather conditions had been different that day.
Inslee said he has urged the federal government to ensure that all crude oil trains in the United States are operated safely.
“There have been some improvements,” he said. “Some of the suggestions we made regarding increased frequency of inspections and the intensity of the inspections, thankfully have been followed, but I still believe there are unmet needs with the safety of these trains. We continue to work on those.”
Inslee said some new safety regulations were approved during the last legislative session.
“This (oil train safety) is obviously very important to many people, across hundreds of miles of tracks,” he said. “It’s up and down the gorge. It’s in the Spokane community. It’s up and down the I-5 corridor. This is very important to the state of Washington. We must ensure safety from these trains.”
Local government leaders have already expressed concerns regarding the safety of the Tesoro-Savage Vancouver Energy oil terminal project at the Port of Vancouver. In December 2015, the Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioners approved a resolution expressing their safety concerns; in February 2015, the Washougal City Council approved and sent a resolution to Gov. Inslee and the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council questioning oil export facility projects and an associated, increased risk of catastrophic accidents and train traffic; and in March 2015, Camas Mayor Scott Higgins signed a letter that also was sent to Inslee, indicating the city council’s concerns about the safety of oil trains passing through the city.
“The city supports your efforts to have the oil industry increase their safety and preparedness measures,” Higgins stated in that letter, adding that the Camas-Washougal Fire Department is not properly equipped to respond to a train derailment or oil train explosion.
For more information about the Vancouver Energy oil terminal project, visit www.portvanusa.com/key-projects/crude-oil.