State allocates $7 million for Deschutes Estuary restoration project

Port of Olympia endorses its support


The Washington state legislature allocated $7 million for the Deschutes Estuary restoration project as part of its 2023-2025 operating budget, which Congress passed on Sunday, April 23, before adjourning its legislative session.

The funding appropriation goes toward the Department of Enterprise Services (DES), the proponent of the restoration project, which seeks to address the historically poor water quality at the lake due to the accumulation of sediment and high concentration of nutrients. The project involves the reversion of Capitol Lake Dam into an estuary and replacing the 5th Avenue Dam with a new bridge.

Senate Bill 5187, which contains the provisions of the biennial budget, stipulates that the funding would be used to progress the design and permitting of the project and advance a memorandum of understanding for the governance and funding of the restored estuary.

So far, partner jurisdictions working with DES have signed a non-binding interlocal agreement that indicates their shared commitment to the project. This agreement was made in October when DES requested Congress to fund the project through capital funds.

Estuary restoration was the chosen alternative for the long-term management of the dam after DES conducted an environmental impact statement which was completed in October 2022. Other considered alternatives were to transition to a managed lake, restore the estuary while maintaining its reflective features or keep the lake as it is.

Port Commission votes to support budget allocation a day after it was approved

The Port of Olympia Commission voted 2-1 to support the budget allocation a day after it was approved.
The Port of Olympia Commission voted 2-1 to support the budget allocation a day after it was approved.

The Port of Olympia Commission voted 2-1 to support the budget allocation by authorizing Executive Director Sam Gibboney to sign a letter co-authored by partner jurisdictions working with DES on the project. 

The show of support was made at a meeting on Monday, April 24, a day after the state budget was passed. Combined with the fact that the letter was sent to Congress on April 7, the commission discussed whether supporting the letter was a moot point.

Commissioner Amy Evans Harding argued that signing the letter demonstrates their commitment to the project, of which they are collaborators.

“Although signing this letter may appear on the surface to be moot because the state's budget is complete, it is my opinion that signing this letter and pledging our support for both projects moving forward clearly demonstrates our commitment to transparent collaboration,” Evans Harding said.

“After speaking with many of our jurisdictional partners, it's clear we have delayed in taking formal commission action. I apologize for the delay,” she continued.

Evans Harding also mentioned that signing the letter would reverse a prior decision that removed the Port from the letter. Asked by Commissioner Joe Downing what she meant, she replied that a decision was made for the Port to be removed from the letter, an action which she felt required the commission’s approval.

“There was an assumption made we would sign on, there was an affirmative statement requesting that our name and logo be removed. I believe that's a commission-level decision,” she said.

Commissioner Bob Iyall joined Evans Harding in supporting the letter.

Downing was the lone dissenter, preferring an alternative that Gibboney suggested: for the Port to draft its own resolution showing its support for the estuary restoration. Downing believed that having their own resolution would allow them to highlight the Port’s perspective in contrast with a co-authored letter.

“We're different than the cities or the county in terms of our outlook because we're the only ones that are directly on the water and directly affected in certain ways by sediment transport,” Downing said.

Though the commission was divided on whether to sign the letter, they did all vote in favor of the Port drafting another resolution, which would be brought to them in a future meeting.

Present at the commission meeting were Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby and Squaxin Island Tribe representative Ray Peters, who voiced their support for the restoration of the estuary.


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  • bonaro

    The estuary is a truly poor idea based in idealistic dreams of utopia. The State DES is apologizing for not taking action but that inaction was well underway 20+ years ago when they failed to maintain the lake per design. Periodic dredging to remove sediment has always been in the Capitol lake plan. It was built as a sediment trap for the Deschutes, which it does well. Now when they take out that dam, all of that sediment will flush into the Port and Marinas. Commerce and recreation will suffer significantly.

    I strongly urge all affected parties to prepare lawsuits for damages...I wonder if DES will set aside money for that?

    Tuesday, April 25 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    A bad move based on faulty science, or should I say a complete 9maybe purposeful) misinterpretation of the science.

    Wednesday, April 26 Report this

  • fredfinn

    "which Congress passed "? Do you mean the Washington State Legislature passed?

    Wednesday, April 26 Report this