At the end of June, the state Department of Enterprise Services released a key document: the draft environmental report for Capitol Lake and the adjacent areas from the end of Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River to West Bay in Budd Inlet.
The lake’s north basin, a not-so-shimmering body of water flanked by Heritage and Marathon parks, was created decades ago by a small dam on Fifth Avenue that separates it from Budd Inlet.
It’s the poor quality of the lake water that has long been the focus and concern of the community, finally resulting in the draft environmental impact statement released at the end of June by DES.
The report examines three options for that body of water: a managed lake; an estuary, meaning the dam would be removed and the water would rise and fall with the tides; and a hybrid of the two.
The final EIS, which will make recommendations about future steps, is expected to be released on or before June 30, 2022.
The Olympian sat down with two representatives of Seattle-based Floyd Snider, the principal consultant to DES: Project Manager Tessa Gardner-Brown and Stakeholder Engagement Lead Ray Outlaw.
Question: The draft environmental impact statement for Capitol Lake was released June 30. The public has until Aug. 13 to comment. How many comments have you received so far?
Ray Outlaw: We have received 100-120 comments so far. Considering that the vast majority of comments tend to come late, this is a good indication that there’s an interest level that’s pretty high. The comments so far vary a lot, but early indications are folks remain interested and are aligned with the project goal of managing sediment, improving water quality and ecosystem function, improving recreational access and also around cost and environmental responsibility.
Q: Can you give an example of the best kind of comment to help inform the EIS?
Outlaw: Specificity is really the key to a good comment — the more specific the better. Overarching comments are difficult to address in the final EIS. An example of a good comment — and we received this at a briefing so it hasn’t been submitted formally yet — we heard that the transportation analysis did not include a regional trail connection across the south basin (near Tumwater Falls). And, of course, non-motorized traffic is an important element of the transportation analysis. That’s a great comment that we can incorporate into the final EIS.
Q: How many public information meetings have you had so far?
Outlaw: We have had half a dozen briefings with interested stakeholders, such as the League of Women of Voters, the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (generally in support of the estuary option), the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association (generally in support of a managed lake), the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and we also provided a briefing to the city of Tumwater. The city of Olympia and others are upcoming.
Q: Is there something you would like to clarify about what the EIS is and isn’t?
Tessa Gardner-Brown: Some key things to note: The EIS is a tool that allows an agency, Enterprise Services, to identify and analyze three main things: reasonable alternatives for a project, potential adverse impacts or benefits from the project construction or operations, and then possible mitigation to offset impacts. It discloses that analysis in detail to really support informed decision making. The EIS is not a permit application, not a detailed design process and not a cost benefit analysis.
Q: The options of managed lake, estuary and a hybrid of the two have the same proposed recreational opportunities. Are the three options similar in other ways?
Gardner-Brown: All include initial dredging and long-term maintenance dredging and that’s the approach to achieve sediment goals. We take the initial dredged material and create habitat within the basin and that’s a key way to achieve a goal of improving ecological functions.
Q: One cost estimate in the draft report shows construction costs and 30 years of maintenance dredging. Why were those costs so much higher for the managed lake?
Gardner-Brown: The managed lake has the highest cost associated with long-term sediment management. We know the invasive New Zealand Mud Snail (which prompted closing public access to the lake in 2009) will continue to persist and thrive in a freshwater environment. So when you dredge that material, the sediment has the snail in it. Regulatory agencies have said the sediment with the snail must go to an upland disposal site, so the cost reflects dredging, putting it in trucks and transporting it and paying for it to be disposed at the upland site.
Q: Would you say people are passionate about Capitol Lake?
Gardner-Brown: Yes. This is their waterfront, this is a shared resource for the community and state and we know the resource agencies are committed to this, given their expressed goals that align with the goals of the project. The goals of local jurisdictions that manage the land also align with the work we are doing here.
Q: Recreational swimming was not included in the report, but it also wasn’t excluded. Why?
Gardner-Brown: Formal swimming facilities were not included because it does not align with the mission of Enterprise Services, and there’s no indication that the governor or legislature would incorporate that into the scope of services of the agency. The old swimming beach, which operated from the 1960s to the 1980s, was run by the city of Olympia parks department. After the project, if a parks department wanted to negotiate a lease and construct a swimming area, they could certainly do that, but they would have to do their own environmental review and demonstrate water quality was suitable for swimming.
Q: How can we have recreation when we are dealing with the New Zealand Mud Snail?
Gardner-Brown: In order to restore recreation, we have measures in place to avoid or minimize the spread of the mud snail. All of the alternatives have decontamination stations. We know they are effective — hot water pressure washers on a trailer — and can be used efficiently. We do understand a saltwater environment reduces the vigor of the snail, but they can increase tolerance to salinity.
Q: If I’m entirely new to Capitol Lake, but want to learn more, where would you direct me?
Gardner-Brown: I would say read the executive summary (of the draft EIS). We do our best to provide an overview and where you would go to find more information about your specific interest. Start there and use it as a springboard.
How to comment
▪ The draft environmental impact statement can be found at https://capitollakedeschutesestuaryeis.org/
▪ To comment by email: comment@CapitolLakeDeschutesEstuaryEIS.org.
▪ To comment by online form: https://comment-tracker.esassoc.com/CLDE/index.html#/21/welcome
▪ To comment by mail: Department of Enterprise Services Capitol Lake – Deschutes Estuary EIS, P.O. Box 41476, Olympia, WA 98504-1476.