Chehalis Flood 1996 Kunzler meeting, 2/26/97

By John Henderer
The Chronicle

ROCHESTER - A Skagit County man who has studied flooding patterns for 17 years said he would be "very concerned" about forming a flood control district for Lewis County.

Larry Kunzler, an investigator for a Seattle law firm, spoke Wednesday at a Chehalis River Council-sponsored event. The council opposes the district.

"If I lived here I would be very, very concerned about that flood control district you've got on the table," Kunzler said to a crowd of about 60 people.

The Flood Action Council has proposed forming a district in West Lewis County. Council members say their proposed flood control measures could lower flooding in the Centralia and Chehalis areas by up to 5 feet.

Proposed measures include building a flood control dam on the upper Chehalis River, removing part of the "hump" on the Chehalis River near Centralia and installing a flood-control gate on the Skookumchuck Dam in Thurston County.

In a wry, humorous speech, Kunzler explained the history of flooding in the Skagit Valley area. Glaciers and nearby volcanoes played a key role shaping the region and contributing to floods, rerouting the Skagit River, he said.

Kunzler said Lewis County's flood problems are different from Skagit County's, but he advocated similar measures in both areas to minimize damages from flooding.

Government, he said, should do the following:

· Allow farmlands to flood and compensate farmers for storing the stormwater.

· Stop development in the floodplain.

· Use wetlands as storage areas for floodwaters.

· Use shorter levees which don't pose so great a safety risk if they break.

"Let some of these wetlands flood," Kunzler said. "That's what God put them there for - it's a big sponge."

Local residents who turned out for the event came mostly from Lewis County. Audience members liked what they heard from Kunzler.

"He's hitting the nail right on the head," said Hollis "Red" Cox of Doty. "Chehalis and Centralia was nothing but a floodplain."

Mike McGinnis, a fish biologist with the Chehalis Indian Tribe, said Kunzler made sense.

"It's not right to flood your neighbors out - it's just not neighborly," he said.

Tribal members have criticized the Flood Action Council for not including them in planning flood controls.

Kunzler said afterward that the Flood Action Council's proposal to install a gate on the Skookumchuck Dam might work.

Tampering with the "hump" on the Chehalis River might prove harmful, he said.

"If the glacier put it there, you might be able to take it out, but if it's an alluvial fan and you take it out, you may hear this Ross Perot sucking sound," Kunzler said.

He said he planned to visit the site today and draw his own conclusions.

Building a dam on the Chehalis, Kunzler said, is a "pipe dream," noting governments elsewhere are working to remove, not build, dams.

The proposed projects to alleviate flooding would cost $100 million. Local residents would pay $10 million or 10 percent, through a tax on property in the district.

Kunzler said local residents should expect scrutiny of the plan from outside the region.

"You're going to bring taxpayers from all over the country into this project: This $90 million (the balance of the $100 million cost) isn't a freebie," he said.

Kunzler punctuated his speech with humor.

"Flood control - I always thought those two words went together about as well as military intelligence, government organization and jumbo shrimp," he said.