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Smith Island to nurture salmon - Snohomish County is getting closer to being able to buy the rest of the land, which it plans to return to estuarine habitat.

By Jeff Switzer
Everett Herald Writer

January 29, 2007

EVERETT, WA - Snohomish County is close to locking up all of the land on Smith Island just east of I-5 for one of the county's largest-ever salmon habitat restoration projects.

The County Council has signed off on the first of two major grants totaling $1.1 million meant to buy 155 acres on the island.

The county bought 269 acres there in 2001.

Officials plan to someday flood much of the 424 acres on the island to create salmon habitat.

"I think these are pretty bold projects," said John Engel, county public works habitat project supervisor.

County engineers want the land to bulk up the Snohomish River tidal estuaries, places where young salmon can hang out and adjust to saltwater before going out into the Pacific Ocean.

The current river and dike system shoots young salmon too quickly from fresh water into saltwater, county officials believe.

"Estuarine habitat is a critical factor that's limiting the recovery of salmon," county senior habitat engineer Craig Garric said. "Unless they have this habitat here for this stage of their lives, we will not see the wholesale recovery we're trying for."

County officials have eyed the land for preservation since the 1970s.

An estimated 85 percent of the historical wetlands along the Snohomish River are cut off from river channels by the diking system, Engel said.
Owning the land is the first and most important step in the county's plans, Engel said.

Another $5 million to $8 million is needed to build new dikes nearer to I-5, the Everett sewage lagoons and a fiber optic cable along the highway.

Once new dikes are built, the county can breach thousands of feet of the old dikes to allow the river and tides to sweep in and fill the island with water and silt.
Smith Island is estimated to be three feet lower than the river system. Tides in the area can have a 12-foot swing in height.

"It will look like a big lake as the tide comes in," Garric said.
In preparation, the county, the Tulalip Tribes, Everett and the Port of Everett are running computer models of how the river, tides and sediment might behave once the dikes are breached.

The system will "evolve over decades," Engel said, with river channels and saltwater tides carving paths in the island.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.




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