Dennis Waller Commentary: Time to Answer Some of the Tough Questions on the Dam


One of the first duties upon arrival at The Chronicle in 1992 was to energize the editorial page. Editor-in-Chief Eric Schwartz is now doing the same thing in the face of a challenging economy. Knowing the editorial page serves as the heartbeat of a community newspaper, I wrote the small mission statement that still appears on the lower left hand corner on each Opinion page. 

It talks about our editorial goal to be fair, offering a variety of opinions while seeking peaceful solutions to obstacles in our way of life. The last sentence is “When necessary, we will be willing to take a tough, definitive stance on a controversial issue.”

This is such an instance. 

In my two decades at the helm of The Chronicle, the 100-year flood of 2007 was the most critical for this Southwest Washington region. Over the holidays back then, my wife and I toured the flooded area and visited with victims. We saw submerged homes and farm machinery, random stacks of drowned animals and piles of ruined Christmas presents piled on the rented home porches of farmhands. Many roads and highways were blocked. Local radio stations were off the air.

Being in the news business my entire adult life, I am somewhat hard-bitten to tragic news and sad scenarios, but what we saw and heard was overwhelming to the point of tears. In the following days and weeks, this newspaper shared the devastation in words and dramatic pictures in every issue. A photo book of the flood is still available at the newspaper. The outstanding staff effort earned us a Pulitzer Prize nomination courtesy of the late educator and author Gordon Aadland.

Our staff in 2007 universally agreed to take a strong position to at least attempt prevention of another horrendous flood. The threat is nothing new. It has been here for as long it’s been settled. Even Lewis and Clark’s Washington exploration was limited by flooding — in 1805.

In recent times the idea of adding a water retention facility has been frequently debated by committees and commissions. Those debates ended in internal scraps and even petty personality clashes. Now, after 61 in-depth government studies, the possibility of a dam helping prevent the catastrophic recurrence of 2007 seems logical. Science supports the proposal to create a dam in the upper Willapa Hills.

Some of the science is a challenge to be comprehended by us non-scientists, but the research is conclusive. Even if you live in the highlands and non-flooding areas, we owe it to our neighbors to study the issue.

To assist the understanding, The Chronicle will present a brief question-and-answer series for several weeks, beginning with the first installment on Tuesday. After that, this series will be continued in each Saturday edition. We welcome your opinions and questions as we proceed.


Dennis. R. Waller is acting executive editor for The Chronicle .