Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary: Port commissioners decline to declare a preference

Instead, the Port sought to offer information and challenge assumptions in the draft EIS


Port of Olympia commissioners did not specify a preferred alternative in their draft of an open letter addressed to the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (DES) for the future of Capitol Lake during its regular commission meeting yesterday.

The letter (attached to this story) was drafted in response to the presentation from the DES on the Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which provides sustainable long-term alternatives for the area. See related stories. 

In their letter, the Port made it clear that they do not intend to choose a preferred alternative. Rather, the Port wanted to provide “information to DES to help improve the environmental analysis, to address the methodology used in the analysis, and to request additional information.”

Port Commissioner Bill McGregor said, “They are not looking for us to choose an alternative...what they are looking for is for us to provide information on where they think they need a little more work and analysis.”

Some of the issues that the Port discussed include navigation and maintenance dredging, federal permitting, sediment management, mitigation implementation, and recreation access.

US Army Corps of Engineers involvement

 McGregor explained that the DES has “expanded the project area to include Budd Inlet, and yet they don’t have any control over Budd Inlet, that’s a federal navigation channel...the information is incomplete because they haven’t included the Army Corps as an actual authority over the navigation channel.”

Generally, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for maintaining the navigation channel for the West Bay of the Budd Inlet, an area which serves as an access point for the marine terminal.

Thus, under USACE’s regulation, the army is responsible for dredging and maintenance activities in the area. The Port suggested  that the DES should encourage the USACE to be more involved in drafting the final impact statement, as the letter  indicated “there has been insufficient substantive conversations with USACE, as an integral stakeholder and regulator, to fully vet many of the assumptions that have been made...related to both navigation (dredging) and regulatory (permitting) components.”

Sediment management and dredging costs

The Port’s letter offers several cautions to DES including this:  The Port “strongly disagrees with the statement on page 7-12, “If this dredging does not occur, and if the Estuary or Hybrid Alternative is selected as the Preferred Alternative and is implemented, then additional sediment deposition from the project is not expected to significantly impact the Port of Olympia because navigation is already impaired.” The obligation to address impacts created by a project action is not negated by the existence of existing adverse conditions. Taking the position that a significant impact will not result where an already adverse condition exists is untenable, particularly as part of a SEPA review for a specific project action.

 Dredging typically refers to a process of removing sediments and debris from the bottom of a waterbody and is necessary to ensure the safe navigation of ships. With this, the Port said that DES must provide more concrete information on dredging options.

In addition, the Port noted that sediment management also remains one of the major considerations when it comes to construction cost estimates. In their comments, the Port explained that costs for dredging and sediment management remain an important consideration in determining which alternative is best for the future of Capitol Lake.

Moreover, the Port also believed that the DES should provide a list of possible funding sources, and identify potential partners to secure the costs needed to maintain these operations. The Port requested DES for clarifications since it remains “unclear which party(ies) would be responsible for either program or to bear the costs.”

Federal Permits

While the DES had provided a “comprehensive” list of permits that they needed to secure, the Port claimed that there must be a comprehensive regulatory assessment for each alternative. The Port requested the DES to hold additional investigation and collaboration with Federal, State and Local Government agencies to help determine if the given alternatives are feasible based on the existing federal and local permit requirements.

The Port also agreed that establishing an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) is the best way to ensure long-term management for the lake. However, the Port cautioned DES that the parties in the ILA must provide a strong commitment towards the project. “The Port is concerned the feasibility of the alternatives reliant on entities other than the State of Washington may be in jeopardy,” the letter reads.

Recreation access

The Port is also concerned that the department seems to favor some recreational activities over others, especially since the draft impact statement did not address swimming, citing that these types of activities are already outside of their responsibility.

Tone and grammar issues

During the discussion, Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J Zita requested the staff to make revisions on the tone and language used. “The rest of the letter is really quite aggressive, confrontational, it’s a fighting tone...the language is quite strong.”

Zita added, “If this letter is going to take a fighting tone, let’s forget the veneer of 'thank you, you did a great job' for the first two pages… be honest about it.”


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  • BillMcGregor

    The Port response is in accordance with the request for Substantive Comments per the website posted on the DES

    Capital Lake-Deschutes Estuary Draft EIS. I quote : "Comments on the information and analysis provided; Comments on Key components of the alternatives; Comments on potential measures to avoid minimize or mitigate impacts; any new or additional information that should be included in the analysis and would support consideration of alternatives; and Any other considerations that should be included in the decision-making process". The 5 page letter submitted by the Port does just as requested - Substantive Comments. No where in the document that I have read does it ask for us to provide a choice on one alternative over the other two. That process of choice will occur down the road and will be made by DES.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2021 Report this

  • JJmama

    This story does not at all accurately reflect what 'the Commissioners did' at that meeting, concerning the letter to DES. I was at that meeting, and Commissioner Zita expressed a strong and distinct dissatisfaction with this letter, and asked that it be taken back to be redone. She voted against the letter as is, and gave many specific examples of why beforehand.

    This article gives the impression that the Commissioners were in sync about this, until way at the end, one short bit referred to Comm. Zita's only opposition being in the form of 'tone and grammar'.

    That's either very poor reporting, or possibly a disingenuous rendering of the actual events.

    I have just started reading JOLT, but I hope this is an aberration and not a habit.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2021 Report this