Dungeness dikes and dredging
By Leif Nesheim
Sequim Gazette Staff Writer March 9, 2005
Not everybody is convinced that government plans
to buy Rivers End Road properties for salmon habitat
restoration is the best plan.
“The whole project is a smokescreen,” said Mark
Thomas, president of the Dungeness Beach Association,
a private club that began as a duck-hunting group in
the mid-1800’s that represents 144 properties in the
Rivers End Road area. He said the habitat could be
improved for salmon without endangering private
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Clallam County and
the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are buying
properties near the river’s mouth from current
landowners. The tribe has purchased two lots and
Clallam County has purchased five lots, four with
structures. Of the remaining parcels, 12 are
undergoing updated appraisals and a handful of
owners---including Thomas---have said they do not plan
On Thomas’ land at the end of the private road he
has a pair of hunting shacks built on raised stilts.
He said he doesn’t like the idea that the county and
tribe have said they don’t plan to maintain a private
dike on the west side of the river that helps keep the
Dungeness from flooding his and neighboring
“If you have put in houses you have a right to
protect it,” Thomas said.
Should the dike breech again, as it has in the
past, and damage the road that grants access to his
vacation property, his ability to use his land would
be compromised, he said.
The flooding problem near the mouth of the
Dungeness is not a new one. The river is a fast
moving body of water that historically changes its
course and has washed over an estuary area both to the
east and west of the current channel.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a
dike on the east side of the river in the 1960’s to
prevent flooding of existing and planned development
in the Dungeness area. On the west side of the river,
the property owners were left unshielded save for the
small dike they’d built in 1965, Thomas said.
The result of funneling the river through a
channel for decades has been the filling in of
Dungeness Bay and the gradual buildup of the
riverbed---by some 8 feet south of Sequim Dungeness
Way since the corps’ dike was built---to the point
that the bed is higher than the surrounding flood
plain, said Jamestown S’Klallam habitat program
manager Bryon Rot.
The river is also locked out of historic side
channels and estuary land that once served an
important purpose for the river by slowing the force
of the water and providing important salt- water to
freshwater transition habitat for migrating salmon,
The Rivers End Restoration Project was ranked in
2001 as the top priority of the Dungeness River
Management Team, a local planning group comprised of
area residents and interested parties. Since that
time the state, tribe and county have been working to
develop a strategy for repairing the lower Dungeness
River floodplain. The plan they devised is to buy as
much property as possible at the river’s mouth so that
the river can have a place to roam more freely once
“They don’t need to buy us out,” Thomas said.
“If they worked with us this could all be
Thomas suggested if the gravel choking the
riverbed were dredged out---at a time no salmon were
present---and the dikes were maintained, the danger of
flooding would be minimized. Furthermore, opening
alternate channels---such as the one in which the
river flowed prior to the mid 1970’s on the other side
of Rivers End Road from the current channel and the
flood channel from recent high-water events that
breached the private dike---would allow the river to
mimic historic behavior while simultaneously
protecting the property owners’ investments.
“It’s common sense,” he said. “It’s just called
However, Thomas said copious government
regulation prevents his solution from working.
County Department of Community Development
director Rob Robertsen said he didn’t know what the
county’s legal responsibility to maintain the private
dike is. He said he doesn’t believe the county can,
or should; prevent property owners from maintaining
the existing structure.
He said that although there is language in the
project description that encourages the river resuming
its natural course of migration, “you can’t stop
people from accessing their property.”
“It’s a very complicated issue,” Robertsen said,
especially when dredging gets involved because of all
the government jurisdictions that then would be
required to oversee the project.
Randy Johnson---a Fish and Wildlife watershed
stewardship biologist working on the project---said
although there is an element of uncertainty regarding
the effect a complete estuary restoration would have
on Rivers End Road access, fixing the river doesn’t
necessarily mean blocking property owner access.
“Trying to maintain the current dysfunctional
system of dike maintenance and dredging is just an
environmental catastrophe,” Johnson said.
Creating a floodplain and perhaps one day moving
the Army Corps of Engineers’ dike further from the
river, to the location where army surveyors initially
wanted to place it, would greatly reduce flood danger
while also improving habitat,” Johnson said.