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Tribe Floats Plan to Restore Marsh

The Tulalips hope to partner with state and local governments to improve removal of dikes in Marysville.

The Herald - Everett, Wash. -
Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

By Scott Morris
Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE - The Tulalip Tribes wants to reverse the tide of dike-building on the Snohomish River delta.

The tribe and its federal, state and local partners would like to hear from the public about a plan to breach some of those dikes and reclaim the estuary.
Loggers, farmers and industry built the dikes to dry out all but 17 percent of the estuary, according to the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project.

Qwuloolt means "great marsh" in Lushootseed, the native language of the area.

The project would let the tides reclaim some of that once-sizable marsh for young salmon, wildlife and plants. To do so, the project partners want to spend up to $4 million to remove large sections of dike, plus four tide gates, on the northeast side of Ebey Slough.

That would allow tides to flood 385 acres of former dairy pasture the tribes now own. In spots, the water would push in close to Sunnyside Boulevard and some newer neighborhoods there. The project could be ready by 2009, said Kurt Nelson, a biologist for the Tulalip Tribes.

The city of Marysville is working closely with the project so a trail system can be included to connect the Sunnyside area with the new Ebey Waterfront Park, Mayor Dennis Kendall said. The trail would go on top of a new dike that would be built farther inland at the edge of the marsh, Kendall said.

That dike would be necessary to protect Brashler Industrial Park, the city's wastewater treatment plant and some of the Sunnyside neighborhoods.
Tribal officials remain open to the trail idea, but no design has been chosen, Nelson said.

Residents will have a chance to comment on three alternatives, plus an option to keep the existing dikes intact, Nelson said.

The cheapest of the three would be to remove the existing dike on that section of Ebey Slough, Nelson said.

Another option is to remove 2,000 feet of that dike, he said.

A third but less likely option would be to keep the existing dike and open two 200-foot breaches - big enough to let the tide in but small enough for the gaps to be spanned with footbridges.

The initial idea was to put a trail on top of the existing dike, but Kendall said the bridges would have proven too costly.

Instead, the new interior dike would suit the city's trail plans, Kendall said.

Walking along the dike earlier this month, Maria Calvi, a restoration ecologist with the Tulalip Tribes, said the trail idea has some educational value. People could get a close-up view as marsh plants re-establish themselves over time, she said.

"It could be a really good learning opportunity for what restoration is," Calvi said.

Estuaries are important transition zones for juvenile salmon as they adjust from fresh water to salt water, Nelson said. Young salmon eat insects and shellfish that thrive in tidal estuaries, Nelson said.

Other species, such as starry flounder and perch, also need estuaries, he said.

The project also would remove four tide gates where Jones and Allen creeks spill into Ebey Slough. Migrating salmon could enter the streams more easily, and the tides would flush stagnant Allen Creek and improve the water quality, Nelson said.

The project was conceived to offset the damage from 4 million tons of industrial waste dumped from 1964 to 1979 into the former Tulalip landfill at the mouth of Ebey Slough.

Audrey Hobeck, a commissioner for Diking District 3, which maintains the Ebey Slough dike, supports the project.

Many of the project's neighbors didn't agree at first, but opposition seems to have quieted, Hobeck said.

"When they first talked about it, there were a lot of fears" that their properties would be flooded, said Hobeck, who owns a metal fabrication shop in Brashler Industrial Park.

Over time, those fears have lessened, particularly when the new interior dike was included, Hobeck said.

Lingering worries have more to do with the fears of some residents about an influx of rats and other rodents once the area starts to flood, Nelson said.

"I'm not sure how to answer that," Nelson said.

Now the project partners want to know what people think, he said.

"We want a project that everybody can agree to," Nelson said. "That might be difficult to obtain, but that's our goal."

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@


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