Saturday, July 1, 2017

Olympia Plans for Sea Level Rise

Above: Community concerns regarding the City of Olympia's plan to address sea level rise are written on yellow sticky notes, reduced to the length of a tweet, at a community meeting Tuesday night. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The City of Olympia is about to embark upon a very traditional planning process to address the most critical environmental issue threatening the city's very existence: sea level rise.

At a community meeting at the Olympia Community Center Tuesday evening, the city revealed a schedule of activities spearheaded by the city, the Port of Olympia, and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance. 

The process is expected to take 18 months.

Omnipresent yellow sticky notes were made available to capture and reduce community concerns to soundbites.

City staff also encouraged the public to place little colored coded stickers on a map of downtown Olympia to indicate answers to typical softball questions: “Where have you seen coastal flooding in Olympia in the past?” and “What are your favorite shoreline areas?” and “What features do you like?”

About 40 people were in attendance.

Andy Haub, director of water resources for the City of Olympia, began his presentation with an explanation of how, in 2010, the Olympia city council committed to protect downtown and its infrastructure.

Most notably, this includes the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, located in downtown Olympia, which treats the region’s 12 million gallons of wastewater per day. Valued at $500 million, relocating the plant would cost an estimated $1.2 billion.

Built on fill about 100 years ago, the area of the Port of Olympia, the seventh largest marina in the state, is also expected to be dramatically impacted by just one foot of sea level rise.

“The time is now, and we’re vulnerable….The future doesn’t feel that far away anymore,” said Haub. 

Susan Clark, project manager for the city’s sea level rise plan, outlined how the plan will be developed and engages the public.

The city has hired an international engineering firm, AECOM, to help implement the plan.

“At $250,000, the planning process reflects the next step. It is not the end point of sea level rise planning….We want to get this right. It’s too important not to,” said Clark.

She said that over 20 internal working groups are working to develop a framework for the plan. The groups include staff from many departments, including parks, transportation and emergency management, along with elected officials.

An inventory of assets will be conducted, including open space, from the Fourth Avenue Bridge and the isthmus to East Bay and Marine Drive. Private property on East Bay and West Bay will not be included. Then, a vulnerability assessment on those assets will be conducted.

The final step will develop adaptation strategies such as tide gates and retrofits to existing buildings.

The city says it will conduct focus groups with the business community and others, including three workshops, the first to be held in October. The idea is to wrap up the plan by December 2018.

The city has a new electronic newsletter addressing sea level rise planning issues.  Community members can self-subscribe to it at

Above: The city is looking to cutting edge sea level rise planning efforts currently underway around the country. It is particularly looking for guidance from the San Francisco Sea Level Rise Action Plan and the Marin Shoreline Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment. The draft Marin Ocean Coast Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report is currently out for public review, said Susan Clark, project manager for the City of Olympia's sea level rise planning efforts.

Several audience members expressed their displeasure with the Port’s contract with Rainbow Ceramics and continued acceptance of ceramic proppants. Others wondered where the funding was going to come from to protect downtown.

Rueben Males was disappointed with the region’s approach to sea level rise planning, and said so at the meeting. He has started an organization called Jobs in Renewable Energy, a non-profit cooperative whose purpose is to incubate worker owned cooperatives.

He said he wants the Port of Olympia to be part of the climate solution, and not the problem, by initiating job creation to renewable energy and promoting the local sale of locally produced electricity.

He suggested that the Port of Olympia host the space necessary for a solar farm at the port district's airport property and/or for a solar farm at the port property on Budd Bay.

Community member Judy Bardin, along with several others, was disappointed that the city has apparently still not reached out to local environmental organizations for their assistance and guidance on sea level rise issues.

“Stakeholders are taxpayers,” she said. In April, after the last community meeting, Bardin provided the city a comprehensive list of local organizations to contact.

When asked what organizations the city has consulted with to date, Haub responded that he has met with the city’s Planning Commission and two Rotary groups, and the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations.

“We need to define what downtown means to us…We can’t capture it all, I’m sure. Give us suggestions and a venue and we’ll be there,” Haub responded.

Local attorney Charlie Roe, father of Olympia city councilmember Jeannine Roe, said that one of the requirements of stated law within the state's Shoreline Management Act is that one option needs to be no action. He asked if the possibility of no action on sea level rise has been ruled out.

“The state is providing some guidance on climate change and sea level rise but it is not a clear mandate. We see this as a local initiative...we have chosen to incorporate it into the city’s version of the Act, requiring setbacks along the shoreline…Unfortunately, to be candid, the guidance from federal and state government is very limited these days and we need to move forward,” responded Haub.

Little Hollywood has written extensively on downtown Olympia sea level rise issues, flooding incidents, the management of Capitol Lake, and current sea level rise projections for Olympia with maps and photos.

Recent articles include “Olympia Starts Sea Level Rise Planning” at and “Olympia’s Sea Level Rise Plan Begins with Port, LOTT” at

For more articles, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

Above: Former City of Olympia councilmember Karen Messmer was happy to express a few opinions about the city's sea level rise plan using several yellow sticky notes at Tuesday night's community meeting.