Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Olympia’s Sea Level Rise Plan Begins with Port, LOTT

Above: At the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, Budd Inlet surrounds downtown Olympia. In the distance is the Washington State Capitol Building. At far right, the vacant nine story Capitol Center Building. Photo taken at high tide on March 10, 2016.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Collaborating for the first time on a sea level rise response plan, the City of Olympia authorized its city manager to sign an interlocal agreement with the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance at its regular Tuesday evening meeting.

The three entities will work together to focus on the development of a sea level rise plan and provide recommendations for capital projects, funding needs, implementation schedules, and emergency response protocols.

An engineering firm, AECOM, has been chosen to develop the project’s scope of work. AECOM has assisted other communities in sea level rise response planning, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area.

City staff will report back to council in mid to late May with a detailed scope of work and public outreach plan. Overall, the process is expected to take 18 months to develop.

How the collaboration and conversation will unfold at the Port of Olympia and LOTT Clean Water Alliance is uncertain.

Rachael Jamison, environmental program director for the Port of Olympia, was present at the meeting, but did not address the council. 

Jamison told Little Hollywood that the Port has tracked the city’s research and work on sea level rise issues and port commissioners have received sea level rise reports in the past.

“Independent of commission meetings, the Port is going to provide opportunities for the public to participate in a way which will be clear once we have a plan. We recognize that there are vulnerabilities and we have to work together,” she said.

No representatives of the LOTT Clean Water Alliance were present at the meeting Tuesday night.

The City of Olympia has acknowledged and responded to sea level rise concerns since 1990.

Since 2007, staff has provided city council and the community with annual updates on current climate change and sea level rise research.

Illustrating their information with Olympia specific inundation maps, city staff gave council the most sobering sea level rise report to date at a study session in February 2016.

According to the National Research Council, four and a half feet of sea level rise is expected worldwide by 2100.

Andy Haub, City of Olympia’s director of water resources, gave a sea level rise report to the community on February 8, 2017 at the Olympia Center.

As he has reported in the past, a one foot sea level rise means flooding would occur 30 times a year in downtown Olympia.

Two feet of sea level rise would flood downtown 160 times a year, and four feet of sea level rise would flood downtown 440 times a year, which is more than once a day.

The city set a policy in 2010 to protect downtown and that is reflected in the goals and policies of its Comprehensive Plan.

Above: Susan Clark, City of Olympia senior city planner, will act as project manager for the city’s sea level rise plan. She has a long professional history with planning and water related issues.

Susan Clark, a senior city planner with the City of Olympia since early January, is taking the lead as the city's sea level rise project manager for day to day issues. 

Andy Haub and Eric Christensen, City of Olympia's water resources planning and engineering manager, will continue to be involved and play a major role.

Interviewed by Little Hollywood on Tuesday, Clark discussed her background and her new job. A graduate of Timberline High School in Lacey, Clark now lives in Tacoma.

Clark is responsible for planning activities related to Olympia’s drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater utilities, and is working on the completion of the city’s storm and surface water utility plan.

Sea level rise is a new, additional responsibility to the position.

Clark started her professional career in 1990, helping to develop Pierce County’s Growth Management Act Comprehensive Plan. She later transferred to the Public Works Department, where she was responsible for drinking water issues, including participation in watershed planning.

After spending 15 years with Pierce County, Clark worked with Tacoma Water as their water resources planner. She also processed water rights at the state Department of Ecology and worked at the state Department of Health as a regional planner with the drinking water program.

Multiple downtown Olympia development projects by the city and the port are underway in precisely the area destined to be first impacted by sea level rise.

These vulnerable areas, built on fill, are well within the historic shoreline of Budd Inlet.

Asked about her interest in sea level rise issues, she said she has visited Annapolis, Maryland, and has studied their issues.

“They have an old downtown, right on Chesapeake Bay. Other communities have aspects of their plans that we can learn from….As a professional planner, I am very interested in the opportunity, and feel honored, to assist a community with this relatively new area of planning. Throughout my 25 plus year career, I have learned that a planner is a generalist, bringing organizational skills and a different way of thinking to the table,” said Clark.

Little Hollywood regularly writes about downtown Olympia sea level rise issues, shoreline management, and related development. For more information about the city’s reports, including the February 8, 2017 report and the February 2016 report, past high tide events, photos, and community concerns, go to Little Hollywood, http://www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and type key words into the search button.

To stay up to date with the city’s sea level rise plans, go to www.olympiawa.gov/SeaLevelRise, or contact Susan Clark, senior city planner at sclark@ci.olympia.wa.us or (360) 753-8321.