Southwest Washington’s U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler joined local officials this week in opposing a proposed wildlife refuge in Centralia.
Multinational power company TransAlta announced its plan to donate about 6,500 acres to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) earlier this year, with both agencies planning reclamation work to transform the old coal mine land into a wildlife refuge.
The proposal has drawn the ire of Lewis County commissioners and other local leaders who say some of the land should be developed instead.
“The WDFW plan for the TransAlta property is a bad deal for Lewis County residents, Washington state citizens and even for responsible conservation advocates, and I am opposed to it,” Herrera Beutler wrote in a statement.
The Battle Ground Republican pointed to the “deep concern” expressed by county commissioners, and said the “hit to Lewis County residents would be magnified because this area includes a state-designated Opportunity Zone, which has been an invaluable tool for lifting up distressed areas.”
“I had communities like Lewis County in mind when I helped create Opportunity Zones via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the WDFW proposal would result in a huge missed opportunity to bring more jobs and economic life to Lewis County citizens,” she wrote.
County Commissioner Sean Swope, whose district encompasses the TransAlta land, also restated his opposition this month.
In a letter to WDFW, Swope said the agency was “less than forthcoming” about the project and “trivialized the concerns that were aired.”
He also wrote that, in contrast to what The Chronicle reported in a story two weeks ago, he does not realistically see the refuge being a “boon for local tourism.”
“This distorts the point I made. While I believe that the recommendations outlined in the ‘02 study could create a boon for our local economy if fully executed, the recommendations amount to a pie-in-the-sky idea as implementation would require pouring hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the site,” he wrote.
TransAlta is actively working to reclaim the land, with some decades-old mining sites already transformed into lakes and forested areas. Proponents say the refuge could serve as an integral link between habitats in the Olympics and Cascades.