By Brennen Kauffman / The Daily News
Local governments and federal agencies sign an agreement to work collaboratively on the future of Spirit Lake, the Cowlitz River and other waterways still impacted by the aftermath of the Mount St. Helens eruption.
The Spirit Lake-Toutle/Cowlitz River System Collaborative is an agreement between 20 groups to meet regularly and discuss different approaches to managing issues facing incumbent water systems. The collaboration will largely play an advisory role on proposed major projects and help coordinate plans between different groups.
A statement of cooperation made its way to various local agencies for official endorsement this month. Longview Harbor Commissioners voted to sign the agreement at their meeting on Wednesday morning. The proposal is on the agenda for the Thursday evening meeting of Longview Town Council.
“It’s a huge problem for us so I’m looking forward to moving forward and getting more movement and attention from the relevant authorities,” Harbor Commissioner Allan Erickson said during the Wednesday’s meeting.
The collaboration was born from the 2017 report
Creating a collaborative response was the top recommendation from a 2017 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report, commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service, said surviving flood and sediment hazard management plans from the 1980 eruption would be best served by clear, public discussions among affected agencies.
The report called for a “multi-jurisdictional effort that can plan, schedule, create incentives, and seek funding to implement Spirit Lake and Toutle River system-wide management solutions.”
Collaborative agencies include the municipal governments of Longview, Kelso and Castle Rock; the Cowlitz Indian tribe; Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Council; state agencies, including the Washington Department of Ecology; and federal agencies such as the US Forest Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
No one entity fully controls the collaboration and the direction it takes. The Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments is the closest to being a leader at the table. The agency will serve as the administrative coordinator under the new declaration and executive director Bill Fashing will serve as the main point of contact for the group.
“Our communities trust that the Corps is doing what it needs to do,” Fashing said. “We need to help provide reminders of what is happening and the challenges we are seeing in local communities.”
Meeting to find common ground
The collaborative has held monthly meetings since April to prepare the official statement. These meetings are hosted by the Ruckleshaus Center, a joint facility between Washington State University and the University of Washington that promotes public policy collaborations.
Jon Major, scientist in charge of the Cascades Volcano Observatory, participated in the meetings on behalf of the US Geological Survey. Major said his agency’s involvement would primarily be to provide research and answer scientific questions about the aftermath of the eruption.
“We’re approaching this from a lot of different perspectives and that’s what the collaboration is trying to enable, to get us talking and understanding what the perspectives are and seeing where the common ground is” , said Major.
The new agreement comes with a certain cost for the agencies that join it. Longview harbor commissioners were told on Wednesday that the collaboration would cost them $5,000 a year for the next three years. The port plans to seek state and federal grants that could help cover this cost.
Fashing said the collaboration will meet less than once a month once the agreement is in place, depending on whether there are pressing concerns and important new updates to share.
“Based on the eruption, we will always have sediment in the rivers that we have to figure out how to deal with,” Fashing said.