Fisher Slough facelift
Restoring habitat helps flood control
Big Ditch will be rerouted along Pioneer Highway then east along farmland to allow existing streams to flow more naturally through the slough. PHOTO BY ADAM STEWART | STANWOOD/CAMANO NEWS
Hefty cranes and rumbling dirt-moving machines line fields north of Stanwood off Pioneer Highway as construction crews recently initiated the final two phases of the Fisher Slough restoration project.
This week, an oscillating 12,000 pound hammer will drive a series of interlocking 65-foot sheet piles perpendicular to Fisher Slough on the east side of the highway. The temporary wall will hold back water and soil pressure as 240- foot-long pipes are placed underneath the slough, realigning Big Ditch along Pioneer Highway to the north.
On the other side of the highway, updated water-level-regulated flood gates, installed last fall, keep the slough to the west for the time being.
The venture, a partnership between environmental groups, local governments and agricultural organizations, restores habitat for salmon while improving flood protection for lowland areas in the Skagit River Delta.
In under two minutes, this 12,000 pound hammer can drive a steel pile 50 feet into the ground. Slough PHOTO BY ADAM STEWART | STANWOOD/CAMANO NEWS
Under the direction of The Nature Conservancy, Skagit County, Drainage District 17, Dike District 3 and Western Washington Agricultural Association, the project stems from $5.2 million of funding secured from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the federal stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“It is a great example of a project that benefits everyone — restoring habitat for salmon, improving flood protection for local family farms and providing jobs for the community, said Karen Anderson, Washington director of The Nature Conservancy. “We’re grateful for the support of Rep. Rick Larsen and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for ensuring funding for NOAA to undertake this vital restoration work.”
The restoration effort will support 55 new jobs and maintain another 13 existing positions, from ground construction workers and skilled laborers, to engineers, project management and monitoring staff.
Current manipulation of the site is being completed by Interwest Construction, Inc. of Bur- lington. Work on the final two phases is scheduled seasonally, with a firm completion date in October of 2011, said Andy Conner, project manager for Interwest Construction, Inc.
The entire project restores 60 acres of freshwater tidal marsh, combats erosion and improves water quality.
As new portions of Big Ditch are being excavated, the material is being used to build a new 12-foot-high levee to the south side of the site.
“Approximately 44,000 cubic yards of material will be moved,” said Conner. “Temporary bridges over waterways reduce construction traffic along the highway.”
A total of four permanent bridges will be constructed to provide access to the property.
On an average day, said Conner, workers dig and move about 5,000 cubic square yards of dirt. The material is too wet to immediately start building up the levee, so crews lay it out to dry.
“Fresh out of the ground, the dirt has around 40 percent moisture content,” said Conner, “20-25 percent is ideal to start placing it.”
Conner said it is an exciting project that ties together the interests of many different groups.
The slough drains a 22- square mile watershed and is surrounded by farmland. Natural stream and tidal processes will be restored through the project, enabling acreage of freshwater habitat for juvenile chinook salmon to feed, building strength prior to heading into the ocean. Fifteen miles of tributary habitat will also present spawning access for coho and chum salmon.
Farmers will have the opportunity to continue to draw water from Big Ditch for irrigation purposes and the new levees will improve flood storage capacity, reducing the frequency of costly maintenance and repairs.
Financial support by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program and the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board supports the difference between the federal funding and the $7.6 million total cost.
Staff Reporter Adam
Stewart: 629-8066 ext. 115