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County, local agencies likely to pay for Cowlitz River survey

County, local agencies likely to pay for Cowlitz River survey

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Cowlitz River survey

Hydrologists surveyed the Cowlitz River in October 2019 to determine whether silt and gravel from Mount St. Helens is clogging the river channel and boosting flooding chances.

For the second year in a row, the county and other local agencies will have to pick up the bill to survey the Cowlitz River for flood risk related to Mount St. Helens.

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District is still optimistic it will get $870,000 for river surveys and other flood-control work, the money likely won’t arrive in time to complete the survey this year, Amy Holmes, corps project manager, told a virutal meeting of local officials Thursday.

The end of July is the county’s “drop dead” time to determine who will pay to get the survey done this year, County Chief of Staff Axel Swanson said.

“It’s most important to me that the survey gets done,” Swanson said during a conference call with local officials Thursday. “We will continue to fight for the funding and work on that, but we have to have the baseline data and information.”

If approved by the Cowlitz County commissioners, the county would transfer about $120,000 to the Portland District for the survey, Swanson said. County staff would work with the local jurisdictions that contributed to the survey cost last year to see if they would do so again, he said.

Last year was the first time the river was surveyed since 2015. The county, City of Castle Rock, Port of Longview and the Longview, Kelso and Lexington diking districts paid about $110,000 for the work. Results found that flood protection levels were largely unchanged except in Lexington, where shoaling has decreased flood protection levels to below authorized levels.

Similar to last year, the survey will likely occur in September or October, with preliminary results available in early 2021, Swanson said. Corps engineers say it is important to survey the river every years because conditions are so changeable.

Holmes said Thursday the Corps Portland District request to reprogram, or move the money from other projects or accounts, to the Mount St. Helens project is making its way through the chain of command but has not yet been approved.

About $370,000 would be used to survey the Cowlitz River channel, conduct laser surveys of the Toutle River sediment-retaining dam storage area and help pay to operate and maintain river gauges.

The other $500,000 would go to engineering and design to raise the sediment dam spillway and design a fish release site on the North Fork of the Toutle River.

The Trump administration earlier this year declined the Portland District’s funding requests for Mount St. Helens flood control in fiscal year 2021. Legislation Congress passed in the early 1980s authorized the government to monitor and maintain flood protection levels along the lower Cowlitz River.

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens dumped about 3 billion tons of erodible debris in the upper reaches of the Toutle Valley, which could clog the Cowlitz River and raise the risk of flooding.

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