The Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association is putting a full-court press on state decision-makers and the metro Thurston County community at-large to decide once and for all on whether to remove the Fifth Avenue dam. It’s tempting to advocate for a decision – any decision – on an issue over which science and popular support appear deadlocked, but prudence should prevail.
The Olympian editorial board takes no position on whether a lake or an estuary is the best long-term option for the community. The Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team has one theory about the ecological role of the lake and the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association has different one. Both sides sincerely believe their science is the best.
We do support the push to resolve the conflict.
Oblivious to indecision and political logjam, the Deschutes River carries about 35,000 cubic yards of sediment downstream every year. This has clogged Capitol Lake and recently sediment has started to spill over the dam into Budd Inlet.
The issue is so politically charged that the state Department of Enterprise Services has stalled on making any recommendation for action to the State Capitol Committee, which is the ultimate decision-maker on lake issues. And the nine-member Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee has shown zero interest whatsoever in dipping their toes into these New Zealand mud snail-infested waters.
But there is hope on the horizon. The state recently contracted with the Ruckelshaus Center, a nationally recognized resource for collaborative problem solving. While the contract doesn’t ask Ruckelshaus to recommend a lake or estuary, it could point us toward the process for making such a decision.
It might, for example, suggest a world class scientific review of the two competing theories that could discredit one and support the other. That would make it easy for the State Capitol Committee to decide, or at least provide them with sufficient political cover.
Such a scientific review might come to no definitive conclusion. It might report that both theories have pros and cons, and that neither outweighs the other. So, take your pick, and the long-term ecological outcome will be relatively the same.
In that case, the decision on a lake or estuary should depend on community preference, with full knowledge of the comparative social and economic cost to taxpayers.
But it’s imprudent now to allow public sentiment to decide this issue. No individual citizen or esteemed member of the State Capitol Committee has the scientific expertise to assess the impact of either option on the health of Puget Sound. Nor should such an important decision be made at a mid-level state agency.
We do support a lake-dredging project that does not preclude either option. The Legislature should appropriate funds for this purpose.
But removing the Fifth Street dam is an expensive undertaking with far-reaching consequences. We should wait for the Ruckelshaus Center’s recommendations.