OLYMPIA – Thurston County has pioneered a fish passage barrier removal program that has become a model across Washington. On Monday, July 16, 2018 the County broke ground on one of five fish passage barrier removal projects scheduled for completion at the end of this year.
John Hutchings, Thurston County Commissioner District One, summed up the significance of the project, saying "This is for everyone, because everyone is impacted by this major effort of conservation."
Over the next several months, Thurston County Public Works will replace a culvert, located on Hunter Point Road near Steamboat Island, with a pre-fabricated bridge that will open the waterway and allow for the passage of salmon and other fish species.
"It is absolutely marvolus to be here today and give back to mother nature," said Bud Blake, Chair for the Board of County Commissioners. "Thurston County is the first county to proactively address fish passage barriers."
Thurston County has been working to develop a program to restore fish passage habitat since 2016, allocating $4 million from the Real Estate Excise Tax to begin the process. In March 2018 the Board approved work to begin on five fish passage barrier removal projects.
Hunter Point is one of those five fish passage barrier removal projects slated for completion in 2018. Other approved projects include: installation of pre-fabricated bridges at Troy Drive SE and Flumerfelt Road SE; upgraded stream crossings with fish passable structures at 26th Avenue NE; and Waddell Creek Road SW at Pants Creek.
Gary Edwards, Thurston County Commissioner District 2, spoke briefly about why the investment in fish passage barrier removal is so important. He invited a young woman who was at the groundbreaking ceremony with her baby to join the Commissioners.
"This is who we're doing this for; that is what our future is all about," he said. "This youngster might only be representative of about 30% of our population, but is 100% of our future."
Also in atttendance at the groundbreaking were tribal leaders from the Squaxin Island Tribe. The County worked closely with the Tribe and other neighboring tribes in selecting the fish passage barrier projects to pursue in 2018.
County Engineer Scott Lindblom mentioned the County met with resource agencies and members of the Squaxin, Chehalis, and Nisqually Tribes to gather their input on the proposed projects. Lindblom said, "Their feedback has been extremely valuable to us in selecting which projects to pursue in 2018."
Squaxin Island Tribal Council Chairman Arnold Cooper spoke about the Tribe's partnership with the County and said, "Working together is the only way we can get stuff like this done. It's a joint effort. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, these projects benefit everyone… because the importance of salmon is critical for everyone. We're helping generations down the road."
Squaxin Island Tribal Council Vice-Chair Charlene Krise gave a blessing over the project before the groundbreaking.
"We pray a blessing for all the workers who will work on this project, and we pray a blessing for all the salmon that will be running through these creeks in the future."
In addition to its partnerships with the tribes, Thurston County Public Works used a comprehensive prioritization process to help identify the fish passage barriers that would maximize return on investment for fish habitat.
"There are many fish passage projects we would like to accomplish, but we have to be strategic in our approach with the funds allocated each year," said Lindblom.
Thurston County maintains nearly 3,000 culverts to prevent roadway and inland flooding. There are an estimated 336 fish barrier culverts based on existing culvert data and information from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.