Salmon to receive assistance at Harborview Drive for culvert removal

It’s not easy for fish to cross Harborview Drive next to Donkey Creek Park in Gig Harbor.

First, depending on the tide and water flow, they have to jump about 1 foot to reach the culvert under the road.

“A little jump for them is a big waste of energy,” said Rachel Easton, director of education for Harbor WildWatch.

Then, with no place to take a break, they have to swim about 60 to 70 feet upstream to reach North Creek on the other side.

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Water from Donkey Creek flows through a culvert under Harborview Drive in Gig Harbor on Monday afternoon. Pete Caster [email protected]

In years to come, fish trying to make that trip – coho salmon and chum salmon, as well as coastal cutthroat trout and Puget Sound rainbow trout – might get help.

The barrier is one of Gig Harbor’s highest priorities on the list of culverts the city is looking to remove over the next several decades to help salmon recovery.

The state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife’s fish passage map identifies 17 city-owned culverts that need to be repaired.

Like similar work happening statewide, it won’t be cheap.

Carl Schroeder of the Association of Washington Cities said there are currently about 1,600 city-owned culverts in Washington that are obstacles to salmon recovery, and that it will cost about $ 2.9 billion to repair them.

“The cost is very site specific, how much infill, or how deep the culvert is buried, the length of the culvert, what kind of correction is needed like a large culvert versus a bridge, that sort of thing,” he said. Schroeder said by e-mail. “We have towns that have salmon stream culverts that stretch over a mile below the developed area of ​​town, something like that would be very expensive to fix.”

Much work has been done in recent years to repair state-owned culverts, following a lawsuit filed by Washington tribes with treaty-protected fishing rights and a subsequent decision by the State Supreme Court United who cemented a decision that state-owned culverts must be removed by 2030.

But tackling state-owned culverts, AWC argues, will not be enough.

“Repairing only state-owned culverts will make state investment at best incomplete and ineffective at worst,” he said in a 2020 fact sheet. “On average there are two downstream culverts and five upstream culverts associated with each state barrier. Investing only in crown-owned culverts without removing all barriers will not achieve the goal of salmon recovery.

Schroeder said cities are not “subject to a court order or direct regulatory pressure” to set their barriers, but “there is a law that prohibits possession of a fish blocking structure. We’ve spent years trying to figure out the scale of our challenge and how to prioritize our corrections. “

What has been done, what is the next step

Gig Harbor public works manager Jeff Langhelm said the lawsuit applied to all jurisdictions that have “culverts in the state’s fish-bearing waters.”

There is no specific timeline for when cities need to fix these culverts, he said.

While there is no replacement timeline or budget, he said it would likely cost Gig Harbor hundreds of millions and take a few decades.

The city has submitted permits for one of the projects on a tributary of North Creek and hopes to begin construction next year. This culvert is close to the RV park at 9515 Burnham Dr. The town has budgeted $ 2.4 million for the replacement work, and the hope is that the permits will be approved and construction will begin next year. , Langhelm said.

Another major project, near the Harborview Drive barrier at Donkey Creek Park, had already been completed.

This 2012 project removed a nearby culvert downstream and was referred to as Donkey Creek “natural light”.

An 80-foot pedestrian bridge was built over North Harborview Drive to open up the creek, a trail was set up below along the water, and a one-way car bridge was built. The bridge also has a cycle and pedestrian path.

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Water from Donkey Creek flows through a culvert under Harborview Drive in Gig Harbor on Monday afternoon. Pete Caster [email protected]

The work cost around $ 5 million, and the Harborview Drive project just upstream would likely cost more than that, Langhelm said.

Among the possible sources of local, state and federal funding is the recent Federal Law on Infrastructure. The city is discussing with US Representative Derek Kilmer the possibility of requesting these funds to support the Harborview Drive project.

“There is money for salmon recovery,” Langhelm said.

The city hopes to design the project next year and then get the necessary permits, which would put construction in 2024.

‘Choking bottleneck’

The culvert is the first major encounter of barrier fish in the harbor’s salt water, said Easton of Harbor WildWatch.

The nutrients provided by the fish help support the trees in the area, Easton said, and they are a source of food for other animals.

“It’s a choke point,” Easton said of the project. “… If we can keep the fish healthy here, we improve the health of everything else around.” “

The culvert is next to a salmon incubator project intended to increase the chum population. There is a wooden channel near the culvert that is part of this project, the Donkey Creek Coop Egg Rearing Incubator. It hasn’t been active for a few years, but Robyn Denson, a city council member, said the hope was to revive it.

Denson also said the culvert replacement work could bring chinook salmon, the main food source for Southern Resident Killer Whales, to the area.

“We hope this will attract the chinook in time,” Denson said.

The culvert sits next to 23 acres of undeveloped land and 11.5 acres of undeveloped land – prime salmon habitat – that the city is trying to buy to preserve.

The property has pools, shade, and gravel which are good for spawning salmon.

The city plans to pay $ 500,000 for the 11.5-acre property, The Gateway reported, with a grant from the Pierce County Conservation Futures Fund and matching funds from the Puyallup Tribe.

If the sale of the 23 acres goes through, $ 5.8 million would come from the city through a combination of funds and $ 1.2 million would come from the Conservation Futures Fund, a policy analyst told Pierce County Council during his meeting. meeting on Dec. 7, at which county funding was approved.

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On Monday, people cross a bridge spanning Donkey Creek along North Harborview Drive in Gig Harbor. Pete Caster [email protected]

The area was part of the original village of the Sx̌ʷəbabs people, a branch of the Puyallup tribe.

“One of our top priorities is to reclaim the lost tribal lands, and this was part of a historic tribal village site,” Jennifer Keating, Puyallup Tribe Land Planner and Assistant Historic Preservation Officer, told The Gateway earlier this year on the 11.5-acre property. . “Equally important is the homeland of salmon, which is an integral part of our culture past and present. We are losing our canopy and salmon streams like this are getting harder and harder to find.

Denson said his dream for the culvert replacement project would be a winding footpath under Harborview Drive, connecting the undeveloped land with the Cushman Trail. A scaled-down version could be a smaller arch, large enough to allow passage of salmon, but not a walking trail.

“This type of natural habitat just doesn’t exist anymore,” Denson said.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering the courts in 2016. Prior to that, she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as a night reporter for the News Tribune.

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