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Posted 11/6/2013

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By Bill Dowell
Seattle District Public Affairs

Sponsors for two Seattle District-led Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Restoration Program projects recently held ground breaking ceremonies honoring the start of their ecosystem restoration projects.

The Tulalip Tribes of Washington hosted a ceremony Aug. 27 for the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project and the City of Burien held theirs Sept. 16 for the Seahurst Park Ecosystem Restoration Project Phase 2 commencement.

The PSAWR program area encompasses more than 15,000 square miles incorporating all waters in the Puget Sound drainage basin and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Qwuloolt and Seahurst projects will ultimately help restore about 400 estuary acres and nearly 3,000 feet of shoreline.

Seahurst Park

For the City of Burien, Seahurst Park is one of its most important assets, and the city has worked the past 10 years to remove the hard armoring lining the shore and restore natural nearshore processes. "This restoration will be the largest bulkhead removal, shoreline restoration project on Puget Sound and it’s a big deal for a city our size," said Burien Mayor Brian Bennett.

The project will improve marine habitat for salmon and other endangered species, restore natural sediment processes, the beach to pre-seawall conditions and the park’s recreational features.

Phase 1, completed in 2005, removed about 1,000 feet of seawall and Phase 2 will nearly double that, removing about 1,800 feet of the armoring. Corps Project Manager Leah Wickstrom announced the Corps awarded a $6.2 million construction contract September 6 to California-headquartered CKY Inc, a civil and environmental construction company with a Seattle office.

"We’re very excited to begin this next phase of the project," said Wickstrom. "The City of Burien and their partners’ dedication to this project made all the difference; everyone has put in so much work."

The Corps is providing $5 million, the maximum allowed by PSAWR authority. The City of Burien, sponsor for the Corps project, partnered with several federal, state and local organizations. City partners are supporting the city by providing $4.2 million state capital dollars allocated by Puget Sound Partnership through the Puget Sound Acquisition & Restoration fund; $1.2 million from the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Estuary & Salmon Restoration Program; and $510,000 from the Green/Duwamish Watershed Forum through the King Conservation District.

"Removal of shoreline armoring is a recovery target for the Puget Sound Action Agenda. By 2020, we need to be removing more shoreline armoring than we’re adding," said Marc Daily, PSP’s interim executive director. "This Seahurst shoreline restoration project is a significant step in moving Puget Sound recovery toward that goal."

Qwuloot Estuary

The Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project will restore tidal access to about 360 acres of historic floodplain. The tribes partnered with several city, state and federal agencies on other projects in the area designed to restore historic and critical tidal wetlands in the Snohomish River estuary. The Tulalip Tribes hosted a groundbreaking ceremony August 27 at the site.

"At one time the Snohomish River Estuary supported one of the largest fisheries in Puget Sound," said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon. "Our ancestors built a strong and thriving economy from the salmon trade over many thousands of years. Today, the wild runs are in a state of crisis. Our partnership with the Corps is a vitally important step in the effort to reconnect Qwuloolt to the natural processes of the estuary and will eventually provide critical rearing habitat for salmon. The Corps brings to the project an impressive record of engineering solutions for habitat restoration."

The Corps’ $3.73 million, two-phase construction project will take about two years to complete. Sealaska, of Auburn, Wash., the company awarded the Corps’ contract, began construction activities August 19.

"In phase one, we’ll construct a 4,000-foot setback levee to protect Brashler Industrial Park, the Marysville Wastewater Treatment Plant and residents surrounding the area," said Corps’ Seattle District Project Manager Bill Goss. "Phase two involves lowering 1,400 feet of the Ebey Slough dike and then excavating a 270-foot breach in it to allow tidal inundation."

Qwuloolt is part of a 16-square-mile Snohomish River estuary that historically included marshes, lowland forest, mudflats and interconnected channels which the Tulalip Tribes ancestors traversed by canoes. It offered a wide variety of plant and animal life that helped sustain villages surrounding the estuary. In the early part of the 20th century a dike was constructed on the current project site and tide gates were installed, preventing tidal access, and destroying the estuary’s marsh habitats.

"As a result, salmon and other estuarine-dependent species were unable to use the highly-productive environment," Goss said.

Restoring tidal processes to what became fallow pasturelands will improve local streams and wetland for fish such as endangered Chinook salmon, bull trout and steelhead.

"One reason for the low survival rate of young salmon reaching the sound is the fact they are not ready to compete in the ocean environment," said Tulalip Tribes Qwuloolt Project Manager Kurt Nelson. "Juvenile salmon require an estuarine habitat to feed and to mature before entering the Sound. For generations salmon have been cut off from the Qwuloolt site but thanks to this project, endangered Chinook and other fish will soon be reconnected to quality habitat."