A new Steamboat Slough dike will get built after all.
After sometimes tense discussions, diking commissioner Maurice Mooers has agreed to allow the federal government to breach part of the existing dike and build a new one on the Columbian white-tailed deer refuge near Cathlamet.
Federal agencies agreed to grant Wahkiakum County Diking District 4 authority to access and manage the new setback dike once it is built. Work is expected to start this fall.
Since January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been trying to secure local support for a plan to build the setback dike and breach the badly eroded levee beneath Steamboat Slough Road. Federal and local officials believe the plan is the only way to prevent a flood on the refuge.
Officials needed Mooers’ approval to breach the old dike, which the diking district owns. Breaching it would create wetland habitat for young salmon, a necessary step because the corps is using salmon restoration money for the project. However, Mooers held out, insisting on having control over the new setback dike. His opposition threatened to kill the $4 million project.
Mooers said Thursday he and the federal agencies finally agreed to preserve some local control. “Basically we agreed that they will own the dike, and we will share in the management of it. It gives us control of the water that’s in the district,” Mooers said.
Under the agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service will own the dike and the diking district will have a say in determining how it is maintained. “We’ll work together at doing it. We’re going to meet at least once a year to go over anything that needs to be done to help maintain it,” said Mooers, the only commissioner on the diking district.
The diking district will continue to manage the remaining segments of the old dike, which will be breached in two places. Additionally, federal officials agreed to put a primitive, one-lane road for emergency use on top of the new dike, Mooers said.
Mooers said he was pleased that he had preserved some local control. “It isn’t what I want,” Mooers said, “... I got control of my dike. That’s what the issue was entirely to start with.”
Refuge manager Jackie Ferrier said the agreement will protect federal investments in the deer refuge and the deer, which are endangered.
“It’s really good news for the refuge and really good news for the Columbian white-tailed deer,” Ferrier said.