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Skokomish River Restoration Project Gets $1 Million Lift

Kitsap, Sun., July 22, 2006, Christopher Dunagan

Photo credit: August, 2006. The Sounder,
Skokomish Indian Nation.

Skokomish—The dream of restoring the Skokomish River estuary to a more natural condition could soon be realized now that almost $1 million is available for the massive project.

Removing about 5,000 feet of dikes will infuse saltwater into the broad Skokomish River delta, the largest river system in Hood Canal. What are now fresh water wetlands will revert to productive salt marshes that existed before farmers built berms to graze cattle and grow hay and other crops in the fertile soil.

For many years, members of the Skokomish Tribe have dreamed of restoring the estuary, which could once again become an incredible nursery for young salmon. The Skokomish is the only river in Hood Canal that supports all fish listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: Puget Sound chinook, Hood Canal summer chum and coastal Puget Sound bull trout.

Native plants could be restored to the area, providing habitat for birds and wildlife. And the sweet grass and native plants used in traditional basket weaving could once again thrive, helping to foster an important part of the Skokomish culture, experts say.

Four years ago, the plan was to breach the dike in several places to bring saltwater into the marsh, said Jack Turner, the tribe’s hydrologist. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dared to consider a bigger plan — removing the dike entirely.

A $990,296 grant was approved for the estuary at the end of last week under the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, funded by the Legislature this year as part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Puget Sound Initiative.

The Skokomish project is one of nine projects able to meet an early-action deadline for funding this year. Another was Belfair State Park, where $200,000 was earmarked for restoring the estuary of Big and Little Mission Creeks.

The grant will pay to remove about 3,600 feet of dike on the west side of Nalley Slough, remove an elevated road network that holds back natural flows and construct a boardwalk to maintain access to Hood Canal beaches. This "phase 1" work is part of an effort to restore more than 100 acres of intertidal wetlands on the former Nalley Farm.

Other funds are coming from the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Program and the National Coastal Wetlands program.

Preliminary work could begin this summer, but most of the construction is planned for next year, Tanner said. The project will be supervised by the city of Tacoma, which owns the land, and the Skokomish Tribe, which has its home at the nearby reservation.

The Army Corps of Engineers will take the lead on a second phase of the project, which will remove dikes around Nalley Island in the eastern portion of the Skokomish delta. That project, which is still being planned, could be even bigger than the first phase, Tanner said.

View the article on line.

Christopher Dunagan,
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved.


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