State and county both plan culvert removal to clear Purdy Creek fish lane – Gig Harbor Now

Environmental Government

The salmon don’t care about the culvert blocking them. All they want is to swim upstream to spawn.

But Pierce County and the state, each responsible for multiple barriers on Purdy Creek, must work together to give the greatest number of fish the widest access to the 6.5-mile creek.

State Department of Transportation Contractors will embark on a year-long fishway project on the spur of Highway 302 in Purdy this month. Crews will replace an old concrete culvert with a 77-foot bridge where the creek passes under the highway and empties into Burley Lagoon.

Culvert taking Purdy Creek under Highway 302 Junction.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says 33% of fish there are obstructed due to the shallow depth of the stream and high flow. (The the agency classifies the culverts 0%, 33%, 67% or 100% passable.)

“Most years, most adult salmon were able to cross that culvert,” depending on timing and rainfall, Pierce County spokeswoman Akiko Oda said.

Meanwhile, on a nearby secondary road…

Just 110 yards upstream, however, the Salmon faces a 320-foot-long system of county culverts that stretches beneath a Chevron gas station and 144th Street. This culvert blocks 67% of fish, according to Fish and Wildlife, also because of the fast-moving, shallow water.

Although squirting salmon such a short distance doesn’t seem like good planning or the best use of funds, the state and county intend to open the entire creek. It just won’t happen at the same time.

Purdy Creek

After the Highway 302 spur culvert replacement, all fish will be able to enter the open creek until they reach a network of county culverts below the Chevron gas station.

In May 2018, they completed a joint study lower barriers at Purdy Creek, said Kim Mueller, fishway delivery manager for the state Department of Transportation. The intent was for the state’s design to match the county’s solution even if the funding did not line up.

“WSDOT is committed to communicating our delivery plan as soon as possible to coordinate with other fish fence owners like cities and counties,” Mueller said in an email. “In the case of Purdy Creek, WSDOT coordinated our efforts with Pierce County throughout the development of the project.”

Departmental project still in the feasibility phase

Funding did not match. The state will soon begin replacing not one but three Purdy Creek obstructions. The department remains in the feasibility phase. In addition to the Highway 302 spur culvert, the state is replacing the 6-foot corrugated steel pipes under Highway 16 with 206-foot-long bridges.

Purdy Creek culvert under 144th Street.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, only 33% of fish make it through the 320-foot-long county culvert system that stretches under a Chevron gas station and 144th Street. These pipes are at the end of 144th Street.

Workers have begun preparing the site for westbound construction which will continue until next summer. Eastbound work will take place next summer through the summer of 2024. Fish and Wildlife reports that the eastbound culvert is 67% passable and the westbound is 33%. The combined cost of the three projects is $41.6 million.

“The State Route 302 and State Route 16 Purdy Creek culverts are a high priority for WSDOT because they improve access to a large amount of habitat (nearly 6 miles), they are geographically close, and the project is ready to ship with a design that is compatible with the county’s future barrier correction project,” Mueller said.

The 2018 study looked at different alternatives to restore full fish passage to the county’s Purdy culvert system. The researchers identified three main options for more detailed assessment.

They are:

  • Purchase and removal of gas station to restore an open creek and installation of a new culvert at 144th Street.
  • Creek diversion east of gas station with culverts at 144th and Purdy Lane.
  • Rerouting of the creek east of the service station, but closing Purdy Lane to traffic and blocking the north end to eliminate the Purdy Lane culvert.
Chevron gas station in Purdy

The purchase and removal of this service station and the exposure of Purdy Creek are among the alternatives considered in a study.

Purdy Lane is a side road parallel to the 302 Spur from the entrance of Peninsula High School to 144th Street. The stream runs between the two streets. Along Purdy Lane are a few small businesses, including SAVE Thrift Store and The Tax Shack.

Pierce County seeks grant funds

Pierce County last month submitted a federal grant application requesting funds to update the feasibility study to incorporate the state’s Highway 302 Spur project, Oda said.

The county is designing another replacement culvert from Purdy Creek to 160th Street, a dead-end road along the Kitsap County line that it co-owns with Kitsap, Oda said. A drop from the 4-foot concrete pipe outlet to the creek prevents 67% of fish from passing, according to Fish & Wildlife. The preliminary cost estimate for the project, including design and construction, is between $1.5 and $3 million.

The county cannot match state funding or its legal incentive. Its 2022-2023 biennial budget provides $6.6 million for fish passage efforts. That’s enough for one or two projects a year, Oda said. The money comes from state grants and surface water management funds.

Culvert from Purdy Creek to 160th Street

Pierce County is designing a replacement for this culvert under 160th Street on the Pierce-Kitsap County line.

The state’s 2022-23 budget provides $625 million for fish passage projects. The Move Ahead Washington transportation revenue package of nearly $17 billion over 16 years includes $2.4 billion to fund barrier removal.

The fact that state projects are currently under construction could increase the county’s grant opportunities.

“We partner with other barrier owners when our funding sources align, although there are opportunities for coordination even if funding sources do not align,” Mueller said. “For example, a fish barrier on a watercourse with recently corrected barriers will rank well with grant funds such as the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board. This helps to coordinate work in all watersheds despite the different barrier properties.

The court gave the state a deadline

Besides much more money, the state has a bigger incentive than the county. A 2013 federal court injunction forces him to expedite fish passage work in western Washington. It must restore access to 90% of blocked habitats by 2030.

The state has 3,976 railroad crossings over fish-rich waters. Of these, 2,083 are fish passage barriers, including 1,538 that block more than 200 meters of upstream habitat. To date, he has completed 379 fish passage barrier fixes, providing access to approximately 1,301 miles of potential habitat.

Purdy Creek where it enters Burley Lagoon

Purdy Creek empties into Burley Lagoon through a culvert not visible at top of photo.

The Department of Transportation completed 15 culvert projects in 2021, restoring access to 98.2 miles of potential upstream habitat. He plans to complete 14 more this year to add about 29.6 miles.

County assessment due soon

The county is evaluating which of its 750 culverts are blocking fish, an effort it plans to complete in 2023. A prioritization strategy and priority list should be developed within five years, Oda said.

To prioritize all of these potential replacement projects, the state and county look at habitat gain, fish stocks, partnership opportunities, existing culvert condition, downstream barriers, tribal contributions, project readiness, consolidation opportunities and public impacts. Purdy Creek provides habitat for chinook, chum and coho salmon as well as rainbow trout and cutthroat trout.

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