Commentary: Why citizens have petitioned Gov. Inslee to restore the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary

The Edmonds Marsh in October 2018. (File photo by Bill Anderson)

The Save Our Marsh citizens group has initiated a petition drive asking Gov. Inslee to dedicate the state property adjacent to the Edmonds Marsh (the old Unocal property) for salmon recovery, estuary restoration and wildlife conservation.  The petition can be accessed online at: http://chng.it/4Kg7wdtZcT

The old Unocal site on the southern edge of the Edmonds Marsh was purchased by the State’s Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in 2005 as the site for a new ferry terminal, but that plan was abandoned by the state ferries system some time ago. Thus, we are asking Gov. Inslee to transfer this state land to another state agency with wildlife management responsibility so that it can become part of the Edmonds Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, and be used to restore and preserve the saltwater estuary and bring back our salmon runs.

The City of Edmonds has invested years of study and received widespread community support for restoring the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary. But to do this restoration, use of the old Unocal property is essential. This is the only feasible location for placement of a tidal channel to reconnect the marsh to Puget Sound. In fact, a bridge was built under the railroad tracks at the south end of the Unocal property (near the entrance to the dog park at Marina Beach) to accommodate the tidal channel outlet necessary to restore the marsh.

The marsh’s open connection to Puget Sound was cut off in the 1960s when the Port of Edmonds Marina was built. The tidal flow was routed into a 1,600-foot pipe that exits into deep waters. That, in combination with a tide gate that restricts flow, has been detrimental to salmon, wildlife and the functionality of the estuary. Spawning salmon were eliminated.

We can restore spawning coho and chum salmon runs in the tributary streams to the marsh and enhance ESA-listed Chinook salmon by replacing the pipe with an open channel to Puget Sound. Re-establishing a functional saltwater estuary with daily tidal exchange would also enhance the health of Puget Sound and benefit other salmon and wildlife (such as the endangered resident killer whales) that have declined due to deterioration of the nearshore environment.

The Edmonds Marsh-Estuary is unique in its urban setting near downtown Edmonds and the port, and is one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in Puget Sound. Incorporating the old Unocal property into the Edmonds Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary would double the size of the sanctuary. With some restoration work and trails, the site could be a wildlife reserve and oasis for wildlife photographers and viewers. This would also provide great opportunities for education, interpretive sites, studies (scientists and students both), and tourism. The marsh currently has many out-of-town visitors and just think what an expanded wildlife sanctuary would bring.

The City of Edmonds has committed over $1.3 million as match for the federal and state grant funds for this restoration project. But the city has been stifled in applying for grants due to lack of a landowner agreement for use of the old Unocal property. WSDOT has refused to sign any agreement and will not even commit to allowing a tidal channel to cross the property in the future. WSDOT also asked that the tidal channel be designed next to the railroad tracks with little to no vegetated area — a “restoration” choice of limited value to the salmon that need a wide area of stream vegetation to keep the water cool and functional. This location would also suffer from the impacts of BNSF’s spraying of herbicides along the railroad tracks.

Thus, via the petition, Gov. Inslee is being asked to intervene and commit to having the state property adjacent to the marsh (which is surplus to the WSDOT need for a ferry terminal) be used for restoring the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary to benefit salmon recovery and improve the health of Puget Sound and its wildlife. Since WSDOT has stated they do not have authority to manage the land as a wildlife reserve, the governor is asked to transfer the state property to another state agency, such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, that does have authority to manage the state property as a wildlife sanctuary.

I’m asking Edmonds residents as well as all state taxpayers to consider signing the online petition to help restore the Edmonds Marsh-Estuary and turn the old Unocal property into a natural area. This is, in my view, the best use of this state taxpayer-paid land and would prevent it from being turned into a parking lot or other development. It’s one way we can help preserve natural areas and our wildlife for future generations.

Please go online to  http://chng.it/4Kg7wdtZcT  and sign the petition and pass it on others.

— By Joe Scordino

Joe Scordino is a retired NOAA fishery biologist and (almost) 40-year resident of Edmonds.

 

 

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