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City of Olympia seeks new revenue sources to adapt to climate change

Ocean water laps around the lens of a camera partially submerged near the shores of the Budd Inlet of south Puget Sound in Olympia, Wash., Wednesday, April 28, 2004 to provide this view of the Washington state capitol building at right, under bridge and the newly constructed 4th Ave. Bridge, which links west Olympia and downtown. When the bridge was rebuilt, engineers built it higher, factoring in both rising sea-level projections and the potential for increased flooding.
Ted S. Warren
/
AP
Ocean water laps around the lens of a camera partially submerged near the shores of the Budd Inlet of south Puget Sound in Olympia, Wash., Wednesday, April 28, 2004 to provide this view of the Washington state capitol building at right, under the 4th Ave. Bridge, which links west Olympia and downtown. When the bridge was rebuilt after the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, engineers built it higher, factoring in both rising sea-level projections and the potential for increased flooding.

Olympia, Wash., is what some call a “sea level rise city.” But elected officials there have only just begun to put a price on the cost of adaptation to climate change.

Olympia is located in an estuary, where tides go in and out. So infrastructure, especially downtown, needs to be able to adapt to higher water with climate change. The clock is ticking.

“We will likely, by 2030, exceed some temperature thresholds that we did not want to exceed, but we can come back from it if we take really kind of bold action now,” said Pamela Braff, the city's new Climate Program Manager.

She said the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, emphasizes that the impacts of climate change are already worse than anticipated.

"And that's not so much because the projections were wrong, but because our infrastructure is more vulnerable than we realized,” Braff told KNKX.

'It’s going to be a big number'

In August, Braff plans to present a comprehensive estimate of how much money Olympia will need to adapt, taking into consideration the abundant opportunities now available through federal sources such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Despite those sources, she says the $200,000 budgeted this year is nowhere near enough.

To begin with, the city needs to have matching funds in place to qualify for most federal programs. But how much and what it needs to pay for is not yet clear. The city does have a climate plan that it’s working to implement in order to achieve a set of climate goals over the next five years.

“We don't we don't have that number yet…(but) it’s going to be a big number,” Braff said.

Olympia City Councilmember Lisa Parshley chairs the city’s finance committee and asked Branff to give a presentation earlier this month to the city’s finance committee.

Parshley said she’s concerned that even with lots of new federal funding available, Olympia won’t have enough – because it’s built on an estuary, at sea level. And sea level rise is already happening.

“We could have as many as 100 king tides a year. Our whole downtown could be flooded a hundred times a year,” Parshley said.

“So we've got quite a bit of work to get ahead of us: adaptation, mitigation. We need to work on our own built environment.”

She said the city will then consider possible funding sources, such as a special sales tax or a dedicated property tax.

Corrected: April 3, 2023 at 2:05 PM PDT
Corrected spelling of Pamela Braff's name in one instance.
Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to bpailthorp@knkx.org.