River grant edges by council

By Brian Kelly - Herald Writer

Snohomish County will get nearly $360,000 in state funding to help clean up the Snohomish River, but the money almost evaporated this week after County Councilmen John Koster and Jeff Sax voted to reject the grant.

The county is in line to get $359,080 from the state Department of Ecology. After the county kicks in roughly $120,000, the county's Surface Water Management Division will have approximately $479,000 to spend on a project to study the water quality of the Snohomish River and fix problems along the shoreline.

The state funding for the river project, coming from a Centennial Clean Water grant, was kept afloat on a close 3-2 council vote Wednesday. Sax and Koster voted no and later raised concerns about the project and the strings attached to the state funding.

Sax said the county should be looking carefully at how it spends money.

"I believe that we're not putting enough emphasis on surface water infrastructure ... ditches, drains and culverts," Sax said.

"It's a matter of priorities. We don't have enough money to do it all," he said.

The Snohomish River project includes efforts to study water quality and habitat in the river and its lower reaches, and almost half of the roughly $479,000 in funding will be used to plan for and restore at least 10 acres of land along the river.

The county will work with property owners who volunteer to participate in the project, which includes planting trees and smaller plants along the shoreline. Landowners who are affecting the water quality of the river will be given technical assistance to help fix the problems.

Koster said he was bothered by several components of the river project.

One concern was that public works employees who don't work in the Surface Water Management Division could be doing some of the work. The grant agreement between the county and the state says the county will use road maintenance crews to do restoration projects.

Road maintenance workers should be doing road maintenance projects, Koster said.

He bristled at the guidelines for restoration projects, especially one that says rocks should not be used to armor stream banks against erosion.

"I just think there's some real issues in saying rocks should not be used to armor a bank against erosive forces of a stream," Koster said.

"We have areas out there where private landowners need to get in there and fix their riverbanks and stream banks. And it's not getting done," he said. "Sometimes armoring them with rock is a logical solution."

Although rock can be used to protect shorelines under the grant guidelines, the county is required to submit those design plans to the state for an evaluation first.

It will be some time, however, before any restoration projects begin.

The river project is expected to start near the end of the year or the beginning of 2004. The county will first have to prepare a plan for surveying aquatic habitat and monitoring water quality.

Monitoring and survey work will wrap up by December 2005. The county will then analyze and develop restoration plans, and river repair projects must be completed by the end of 2006.

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or kelly@heraldnet.com.



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