Residents and experts meet, once again, to hash out solutions for Grays Bay flooding

Residents prefer dredging, but that solution seems elusive so far


February 8, 2024

Westend residents filled Rosburg Hall last Tuesday for the third Grays Bay Workshop hosted by Washington Sea Grant, Pacific Conservation District, and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. Jackson Blalock of the Pacific Conservation District has been leading the discussion at the series of Grays Bay workshops. He stopped to listen to one property owner's concern during a break. Photo by Diana Zimmerman.

By Diana Zimmerman

Westend residents filled Rosburg Hall last Tuesday for the third in a series of workshops on flooding in the Westend, led by Jackson Blalock of the Pacific Conservation District, and hosted by the Washington Sea Grant, the Pacific Conservation District, and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

Using information gleaned from the first two workshops, Blalock presented maps of each area in the Westend showing possible solutions for the flooding issues, while looking for input from the audience as to what might work, what wouldn't, and what those in the community might actually be willing to do.

It spurred a lot more dialogue.

Some of the suggestions for the Middle Deep River area included floodplain modifications like raising West Deep River Road to improve its performance as a dike, or upgrading existing tide gates, improving drainage behind dikes, adding riparian buffers and removing dikes, identifying drainage patterns upland, decommissioning or modifying roads, or growing later and older forests.

Another suggestion was to remove East or West Deep River Road.

"There's two roads, right?" Blalock asked. "Flooding could be managed by giving more walk room for water to spread on either side and still maintaining access to downtown. This isn't advocating that, this is just saying that could be something."

Blalock asked if anyone saw pros or cons with the suggestion, and the room erupted with laughter.

He moved on.

The next area up for discussion was Seal Slough and Seal Creek, where Blalock said there were a lot of issues with flooding on SR 4, creating problems for transportation and emergency access.

Suggestions for improvement included raising the road, raising driveways, repairing or upgrading existing dikes and tide gates, improving drainage behind dikes, floodproofing buildings, and dredging the lower Grays River and Grays Bay for faster drainage.

"Raising roads and driveways is just pushing the problems down the line, it just pushes the problem to the next person," Austin Burkhalter said.

One of his neighbors agreed.

"Anything you do as far as diking or raising things, you have to look at what it's going to do, it's not fair," the man said. "You're just making it worse for somebody else. We have to be a community. You can't just say I want my place like this. It's not going to be like that.

"So, thinking about how it works across multiple properties," Blalock said.

The next set of suggestions for the same location were to raise the road on pilings as a bridge or on box culverts, raise driveways as needed, look for opportunities to connect the river with the floodplain to store water and sediment, widen the channel, or add riparian buffers or remove dikes, enhance existing restored areas to store more water and sediment, and remove remaining dikes along restored land to allow more direct flow of water and less flooding next door.

One person spoke up, saying he thought that putting in a bridge where there was so much flooding on SR 4 was a no-brainer, but a woman who lived along that area said that was a no-go for her.

"You can raise the road, that's just fine, but I won't have a bridge there," she said. "I figure that floods everything, every bloody tide."

In the Grays River area, some suggestions included a dam or another control structure in the upper watershed, raising or building dikes along the river, repairing or upgrading existing tide gates, reinforcing the base of the SR 4 bridge to mitigate erosion, raising low lying roads, public ownership or management of dikes and tide gates affecting public infrastructure of multiple landowners, and removing gravel bars from channel.

"I think the story long ago was that the farmers used to remove the gravel from the river, so that's a good idea," a woman said.

Regardless of what you do, someone else said, it doesn't do any good if Grays Bay isn't dredged.

"I'm hearing a big solution is to dredge and the people we are relying on to do that are not at the table," Blalock said.

"How long have we been talking about the need to dredge?" A man asked. "15 years from where I'm sitting at."

After going through all the possible solutions they had come up with so far, Blalock shared some thoughts, and asked for more input.

"What we've learned is that most grant programs will not give you dollars to do the work you want to do, unless you have a plan," Blalock said. "Another thing we've seen through funding for flood control, there is a lot of funds available for public work, but not a lot for private work. If people are looking for funds to benefit private land, one of the keys to unlocking that is that people adopting it look like they are going in the same direction. It has to look bigger than a single parcel."

"For instance," he added, "if there was a highway running through it."

"How can people move forward in a way where they are working together, rather than parcel by parcel to get this going?" He asked. "If we start thinking big, if we start thinking about how something can move forward and start accessing funds."

A final workshop is planned for this spring, where they will share everything they've learned.


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