Federal, state grants set for East Fork Lewis River rehab project


The pockmarked patches along the lower East Fork Lewis River could see some significant reconstructive surgery starting next year after around $13 million in project funding received support at the state and federal levels.

On April 21, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell announced $7.5 million in funding for 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 the pits once used for gravel mining, changing the river’s course and affecting the habitat, according to the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

The partnership is the lead agency for the project. The East Fork has been identified as a critical watershed for the recovery of salmon, a release from Cantwell’s office stated.

The funding was recommended by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and was among nearly $60 million in funds awarded through the administration’s Climate-Ready Coasts initiative in Washington, the release stated.

The federal funding supports the millions of dollars the project has received at the state level, which includes about $5.5 million approved in the Legislature’s capital budget this year for the project.

That funding was a part of about $67 million for the state’s Floodplains By Design program, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, spokesperson for the partnership, said.

“The estuary partnership is thrilled to have secured these highly-competitive funds for a job-creating habitat restoration project in Southwest Washington,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

It was the only project in the region to receive Floodplains By Design-based funding, she added.

The project’s long-term outlook focuses on the restoration of three miles of the river and riverside habitat to the benefit of properties and animal populations, Zimmer-Stucky said. In the short term, the project brings jobs to the area as the restoration work is completed.

“Make no mistake, this is an enormous, ambitious restoration project,” Zimmer-Stucky said. “It is very needed on the river.”

The project isn’t immune to rising construction costs. The partnership sought out federal dollars because the project matched the goals of the initiative.

Those funds give a boost to other funding earmarked for the project at the state level. When the Legislature convened in January, it wasn’t clear the project would receive any funding through the Floodplains By Design program, Zimmer-Stucky said.

The $5.5 million in this year’s capital budget is paired with about $7 million the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office announced in September. If Gov. Jay Inslee signs off on the Legislature’s approval, the roughly $20 million total will be enough funding to start the project at its current scope.

“At this point, this project is fully-funded,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

She said with the dollars secured, the restoration is on track to begin next year. In the meantime, the partnership will complete the final design and go through the permitting process to be able to break ground.

The upstream end of the project will be the western side of Daybreak Regional Park, Zimmer-Stucky said. That could lead to impacts during the project’s construction. The partnership is working with the county to ensure park users are aware of what’s to come, she said.

During the restoration work, the partnership’s education and stewardship program will invite community members to take part in volunteer efforts like plantings in the project area, Zimmer-Stucky said.

The goal of the project is to return the area to a state as close as possible to the landscape there prior to the industrial activity that operated along the river. 

“Some of the interesting things that are coming out of the engineering reports and research are these fantastic images of what the river looked like in 1910, in 1930, and it’s really fascinating,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

After almost a decade of development, having the finances likely ready to go has the partnership and other stakeholders excited, Zimmer-Stucky said.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment, preparing for this moment, hoping that this moment would arrive and it finally has,” Zimmer-Stucky said.