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River’s End project nears completion - Planting, marsh restoration scheduled for this spring

By Ariel Hansen
Staff writer    Sequim Gazette       

January 31, 2007

If all goes as hoped, soon the mouth of the Dungeness River will look as it did a century ago, flooded with salt marsh and sprinkled with natural vegetation.

Planners are nearing the end of a multi-year project to improve water quality and the quality of the habitat for fish and other native animals by restoring the estuary at Rivers End to its natural state.

“This estuary restoration is something that has been done in Puget Sound, and projects have been done with really terrific results,” said Hansi Hals, a restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.  The tribe has been working with the county and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife [DFW] to buy out landowners in River End, remove the structures and secure the land to as close as to a natural condition as possible.

Who will manage the land once the project is complete is still up in the air.  The county may keep the property or may offer it to DFW as a donation. 

“If we do (accept the property transfer), then one of the main impacts of us owning that property on the public is that the public would have access to a certain amount of river frontage down there for fishing,” said Randy Johnson, biologist for DFW.  The state also owns adjacent land, where they are planning to restore pastureland back into a salt marsh.  “Being owned by one agency might make management and management decisions a bit more efficient.”

Access may also be made available to the public if the county keeps the land and manages it through the parks board, said Donella Pratt, associate planner with the county.

Two sources of funding that have paid for the Rivers End project are set to run out in July and December 2007; so much of the project must be completed soon.  This included demolition of infrastructure on some of their properties the county has already purchased from area landowners and planting of natural vegetation.

“It gets soggy down there and its hard to do construction in the rain and the wind,” Pratt said, about why the demolition hasn’t gone forward in the past few months.

In a month, Pratt said, 3200 stems of shrubs and trees will be delivered to the county, and planted in March and April.

Additional planting is being done this month as part of the estuary restoration grant, including red cedar, Indian plum, red osier dogwood, Nootka rose and snowberries.  One tree that won’t be planted as part of this grant is alder, because it grows so quickly naturally,” Hals said.

These plantings are going in on the west side of Rivers End road, on DFW land.

“Much of that land, nearly half of it, was originally salt marsh,” Hals said. “DFW is very interested in having salt portions of their properties have some of those salt marsh functions again.”

This is because salt marshes provide good habitat for salmon species---which is why the North Olympic Peninsula Lead Entity awarded $184,000 to the tribe for the project---as well as seabirds. shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, shellfish, and crabs.  All these species contribute to the health of the environment and quality of the water. 

Two steps remain before the salt marsh can be restored. 

First, there are numerous houses at the top of a nearby bluff.  Those homeowners communally own the salt marsh land directly below the bluff, but they want assurances that change to the neighboring land to return it to a natural state won’t compromise the stability of their bluff.

“That’s our first task, to see what we’re fiddling with and if it all makes sense from a geomorphology point of view,” Hals said.

“We can’t move forward with any design until we know what that bluff study says.”

Second, the tribe will assess whether excavation is likely to uncover any cultural artifacts.  Tribal and pioneer use of the estuary means there is a potential for archeological discovery, but Hals said the tribe does not expect to find anything of significance.



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