The Columbian: "I-5 flood-protection study needs to weigh effect of upstream logging"
In Our View: A Flood Factor?
To: The governor's office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and politicians from Congress to the Lewis County courthouse:
Subject: Upcoming studies of possible flood-control projects for the Chehalis River Basin, where Interstate 5 was under water and closed for almost four days this month.
Suggestion: Along with the engineers, transportation experts, Indian tribes, politicians and major landowners, please include in your discussions and planning some hydrologists and erosion-control experts from - or hired by - the Washington Department of Ecology.
Why: Photographs by Steve Ringman of The Seattle Times, taken from a helicopter above a Chehalis River tributary a few miles west of I-5 during the flooding, show a totally logged off mountain and adjacent slopes that were the source of numerous slides during the relentless rain.
One of Ringman's photos ran in Monday's Columbian on Page C2.
"His photograph ... offered a stark view of the storm's effects on a tract of heavily logged lands," The Times wrote. "Slides crashed into Stillman Creek, a major tributary of the South Fork of the Chehalis River, adding to the destructive mix of mud, wood debris and floodwaters that inundated homes and farms in the Boistfort Valley west of Chehalis."
That mess contributed to the flooding downstream, where the river meanders northward as it comes to within 75 yards of I-5 before turning toward the ocean.
Perhaps the slides would have occurred even if the slopes had never been logged. But the photos strongly suggest that it would be foolish to consider flood-control efforts in the Chehalis-Centralia flood plain and not consider independent, expert opinions on the effects of upstream logging practices and road building.
"These big storms are the true test of our watershed management," Fred Swanson, a U.S. Forest Service geologist told The Times.
Weyerhaeuser, which has striven to establish a reputation as a good steward of the environment, isn't sticking its head in the sand on this.
The storm "was a catastrophic event, a natural disaster," said Frank Mendizabal, a spokesman for the huge timber company, based in Federal Way. He pledged that the company will "take a look ... and see what effects the storm had and see if we need to make any changes."
We commend Weyerhaeuser for that stance. But the decision more than three years ago by the state Department of Natural Resources to allow clear-cut logging on slopes as steep as 50 degrees in the Stillman Creek drainage ought to be probed by an entity other than Weyerhaeuser or DNR, which relied at the time on analyses prepared by experts Weyerhaeuser had hired. According to The Times, a Weyerhaeuser geologist found "no potentially unstable slopes." DNR relied heavily on the Weyerhaeuser geologist's assessment when it approved the logging in that steep area three years ago. "It was a very important thing," said Eric Schroff of DNR. "Without that, we would have potentially had to bring in one of our own geologists."