OLYMPIA – Don’t expect a decision on the future of Capitol Lake anytime soon.
The state Department of General Administration will ask the 2011 state Legislature for $500,000 to design and secure permits for a dredging project to reduce the risk of flooding in downtown Olympia.
The project to clean out a sediment trap in the lake’s middle basin would not commit the state to maintaining the lake in the long run or foreclose the option of creating a Deschutes River estuary, GA Director Joyce Turner told the state Capitol Committee on Tuesday.
Pro-lake and pro-estuary forces attended the committee meeting; both sides wondered whether the state agency that manages the man-made lake as part of the Capitol Campus was ready to make a recommendation on its future.
It has been 13 months since an advisory committee of local governments, state agencies and the Squaxin Island tribe forwarded a majority opinion in favor of taking out the Fifth Avenue Dam and letting the river flow freely into Budd Inlet.
The committee spent several years and $1.7 million studying the estuary and lake options in a community sharply divided over the best course of action.
For now, the decision is hung up by the stagnant economy and state budget crisis. The 50-year cost for the estuary is estimated at $115 million to $225 million. The lake is pegged at $191 million to $322 million, and a third option to build a wall to turn part of the north basin into a reflective pond with the river on the other side is even more expensive.
“It is a very difficult time to push any of these recommendations forward,” Turner said. “We don’t have money for any of the options.”
Even the budget request for the emergency dredging landed next to last on a list of 21 Capitol Campus projects totaling more than $57 million that GA wants to present to the Legislature for approval.
“We expect a difficult session on the capital budget side,” said GA assistant director of facilities Tom Henderson. “We’re uncertain about the ability to fund this list.”
Lake supporters appeared more comfortable with the interim dredging proposal than estuary supporters.
“It’s a good first step needed to protect the Capitol Campus,” said Olympia attorney Allen Miller, a member of the Capitol Lake Improvement Protection Association.
Miller was referring in part to the historic architectural design of the Capitol Campus, which nearly 100 years ago called for a reflecting pond as part of the campus design.
“I think we’re in a holding pattern,” said Sue Patnude, a former state Fish and Wildlife employee and member of the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team. “We’ll just keep trying to move ahead.”
The dredging project would remove about 150,000 to 200,000 cubic yards of sediment, less than 10 percent of what has accumulated in the lake during the past 60 years.
Neil McClanahan, a Tumwater City Council member and former chairman of the disbanded Capitol Lake advisory committee, said the latest dredging plan is not much different from the one proposed in 1995 that met with sharp resistance from the tribe and state Department of Ecology.
Debate over the most recent attempt to dredge the lake led to the formation of the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan Steering Committee.
“We’ve come full circle,” a frustrated McClanahan said. “But now we also have the New Zealand mud snail infestation in the lake and a lot more sediment to deal with.”
Two of the three state Capitol Committee members at the meeting voiced support for the General Administration plan to push a dredging project forward.
There has been no dredging in the lake for more than 20 years. The lake capacity is about 40 percent of what it was when it was formed in 1951.
“It’s unconscionable of the state not to do anything since 1989,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said. “I support the dredging.”
In a brief presentation to the committee, Turner laid out the case for both the lake and the estuary.
The lake is a critical part of the Capitol Campus and Olympia, enjoyed by joggers and hikers who don’t want mudflats downtown.
The estuary would play a role in Puget Sound cleanup, improve habitat for native fish and wildlife and provide an environmental education opportunity in the capital.
While there’s no surplus of state funds for lake maintenance, there could be federal funds available to help pay for estuary restoration, Patnude noted.
Both sides acknowledge that it will take a combination of public and private funds to manage the water body, whether it’s a lake or an estuary, Jones said.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com