King proposes using new funding to fund fish barrier passage projects

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, today proposed that the $196 million expected from Boeing in 2020-21 from the aerospace tax incentive reform bill be used to fund fish passage projects around the state.

“Our plan would allow Washington to finally begin work on an extremely expensive project that will impact many roads and highways throughout the state,” said King, the ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee. “We are required by federal court to remove barriers that prevent fish from reaching spawning habitat, but the state hasn’t been able to identify a reliable funding source to allow us to truly start this extensive project – until now. This plan that I am offering will allow the state to improve fish passages without affecting other important road and highway projects.”

King touted the strengths of such a plan:

  • Fixing fish passage is required by a 2013 U.S. District Court injunction that requires the state to significantly increase the effort for removing state-owned culverts that block habitat for salmon and steelhead by 2030. (In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 4-4 on the case, leaving the lower court order in place.)
  • The plan’s first priority would be to fix fish passages that open the most amount of habitat.
  • The plan’s secondary priority would allow the state Department of Transportation to move fish passage projects up the priority list depending on partnership opportunities, prioritizing projects with no or low downstream barriers, project readiness, geographic bundling, fixing the most degraded culverts first and input from the public particularly affected tribes.
  • Increasing salmon habitat should increase the amount of salmon.
  • Increasing the amount of salmon should increase the amount of orca.
  • Increasing the amount of salmon should benefit tribal members who so heavily depend on salmon resources.
  • Increasing the amount of salmon should benefit the recreational and commercial fishing communities.
  • Funding a capital program like salmon habitat remediation would allow maximum flexibility if the Boeing/Airbus WTO dispute is resolved and aerospace could once again obtain a tax incentive ending the proposed revenue stream for this fish barrier fix.  Funding salaries and operating programs create a “bow wave” effect with the budget.  However, funding capital projects can be done as money is available. If the aerospace money source ends, the fish passage obligation does not and it would just require finding an additional funding source.

Along with Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood), King is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 6690, which would capture the projected $196 million from Boeing during 2020-21. It is possible that the projected funds could be cut short if the bill’s trigger mechanism is activated through settlement of the WTO dispute.  However, it is also possible that more fish passage could be remediated since the $196 million only accounts for expected revenue from the Boeing portion of the aerospace sector.

To see a state Department of Transportation table of the fish passage projects that could be funded by this plan, click here. To see a table by WSDOT that shows fish passage projects along with their costs, click here.

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