Clark County Council shows support for East Fork rehab project funding


The Clark County Council has officially backed a project to rehabilitate habitat along the East Fork Lewis River as they asked lawmakers in Olympia to earmark funding the project needs in order to break ground next year.

During its Jan. 17 meeting, the Clark County Council approved sending letters to both the House Budget Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the Washington State Legislature in support of the Lower East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project.

The project is intended to reclaim land on and by the river affected by past mining operations a few miles upstream from La Center. Known as the Ridgefield Pits, floods in the 1990s brought water into pits once used for gravel mining, changing the river’s course and affecting the habitat, according to the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

The project would reconnect 300 acres of floodplain and restore 2.5 miles of riverside habitat, according to Floodplains by Design, a program backed by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The program includes a number of restoration projects statewide, including on the East Fork Lewis River.

The letters specifically ask for the respective committees to include $70.4 million in the state 2023-2025 capital budget for Floodplains by Design projects. The project along the Ridgefield Pits makes up about $8.6 million of that total, the letters state.

If the funding is included in the budget, the project could break ground in 2024, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, spokesperson for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, said at the meeting. The partnership is the lead agency for the project. It has undertaken nearly a decade of planning to protect endangered salmon species leading up to the work, according to information from Floodplains by Design.

The East Fork Lewis River restoration is the only project in the Floodplains by Design program in Southwest Washington. Without the capital funding, 87% of funds for Floodplains by Design projects would be in the Puget Sound area, Zimmer-Stucky said.

“We’re really excited to make sure that the statewide program benefits the entire state and Southwest Washington specifically,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

The total project cost is estimated at $18.3 million, according to information from Floodplains by Design. The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership received $7 million for the project from the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board in September, Kevin Tyler, lands manager for Clark County Public Works said at the meeting.

The county has already made its own financial commitment to the project. A natural areas acquisition plan approved by the council in April authorized providing up to $500,000 from the county Conservation Futures fund to acquire the former Ridgefield Pits property in support of the project, Tyler said.

He said the project would reduce flood risk for about 30 homes and structures, which includes a county maintenance yard at Daybreak Regional Park and a nearby mining operation.

The recovery project is “vital to the completion of the East Fork Greenway Project,” the letters read.

That project would place a multi-use recreational trail along the river from Daybreak Park, which the county owns, to Paradise Point State Park near La Center.

The project also has an economic impact, as the letters stated it was expected to support more than 300 new or sustained jobs and create up to $45.5 million in total economic activity, “most of which will stay in Clark County.”

The letters mentioned prior state funding support for the Steigerwald Reconnection Project, a similar undertaking by the partnership that reconnected close to 1,000 acres of floodplain to the Columbia River near Washougal.

Prior to the unanimous approval by the council, Councilor Sue Marshall expressed her support of the letters and the project itself.

“Southwest Washington deserves some of this funding,” Marshall said.