Clallam gets $1.2 million grant for Dungeness River levee project

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has received a $1.2 million state grant to design the lower Dungeness River levee setback project.

County commissioners are expected to approve the agreement with the state Recreation and Conservation Office next Tuesday.

Clallam County will use an existing grant to cover a $10,000 required match, officials said in a Monday work session.

“There’s no funding coming out of county coffers going toward this,” Habitat Biologist Cathy Lear told commissioners.

Clallam County is working with federal, state and tribal partners to reconnect a section of the lower Dungeness River with its natural floodplain.

A 0.8-mile section of the east dike will be moved further to the east to allow the river to meander in a 112-acre wetland south of Anderson Road between the Dungeness Schoolhouse and Dungeness Valley Creamery.

“We’re in the design phase of it right now, and this money will help us pay for the design,” Lear said.

Clallam County has purchased property from private landowners, removed infrastructure and managed vegetation in the project area.

By allowing the river to reclaim its floodplain, the project will decrease flood risk and improve fish and wildlife habitat, river function and water quality in both the lower river and Dungeness Bay, officials have said.

The $1.2 million grant is unspent money from another Recreation and Conservation Office project that ranked No. 1 in a scoring contest and was completed under budget, Lear said.

Clallam County received the returned funds because its project was the “next project down the list,” Lear said.

If the agreement is approved Tuesday, the county would have two grants to design the levee project and a third grant for both design and construction.

“Now that we have this additional design grant, we’ll be able to use the design-construction grant almost exclusively for construction,” Lear said.

The estimated cost of construction is between $11 million and $13 million.

“It could go up, it could go down,” Lear said of the cost.

“We’re still in the preliminary stages for that.”

Most of the construction will be paid for by the state. County officials hope the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the dike in the 1960s, will also contribute to the construction.

Construction is expected to commence in 2018.

The $1.2 million design grant will be used for environmental studies, core drilling of the existing dike and other preliminary work, Community Development Director Mary Ellen Winborn said.

A portion of Towne Road will be realigned as part of the project.

Lear said the goal is to have the design 65 percent completed by spring and 90 percent finished by fall.

“The earliest that the Corps could be able to fund the construction is 2018,” she added.

“So we wouldn’t be able to start work for another year and a half.”

No commissioner objected to the agreement with Recreation and Conservation Office when it was discussed Monday.

Clallam County is heading up the design and construction phases of the project. Its partners include landowners, state agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, among others.

The levee setback project has been identified as a high priority in the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan since the late 1990s, Lear has said.

Restoration of the lower river has also been a priority of the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe, Clallam County, Dungeness River Management Team, North Olympic Peninsula Lead Entity, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state departments of Fish and Wildlife, Transportation and Ecology, officials said.

The Army Corps, Lear said, has been “slowly moving toward being able to fund a portion of the construction.”

“It’s going to take a lot of work on our part here to be able to make sure that it’s in their budget,” Lear said.

“We’ll have to work with our Congressional delegation on that. But they have made steps in recent months.”

“In the meantime, I would like to give kudos to the staff at the Corps,” Lear added.

“They have been just steadfast in doing everything they can to move this project forward.”

The Army Corps built the dike in response to major flooding that occurred on the lower Dungeness River in the late 1940s, Lear said.

The dike has constricted the lower Dungeness River and raised the level of the river bed, increasing the risk of floods, county officials have said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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