Company’s fines help fund Snohomish estuary restoration

MARYSVILLE — Fines that landscaping and construction-materials company Pacific Topsoils paid last year for environmental violations on Smith Island have been put to use to restore part of the Snohomish River estuary.

The money, awarded as a $50,000 state grant, allowed the Tulalip Tribes to dig a new channel for Allen Creek. The work south of downtown Marysville is part of the tribes’ larger Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project that aims to revive habitat and minimize flood damage.

“Allen Creek is now flowing in this channel; at high tide, this channel fills up with water,” said Erik Stockdale, wetlands unit supervisor with the Department of Ecology. “It’s probably its historic location, actually close to where it was 100 years ago before it was channelized and placed into a ditch.”

The money was awarded through the state’s Coastal Protection Fund.

It represents part of the company’s $88,000 fine for illegally filling in wetlands. Money from the fine also is earmarked to help pay for a one-day workshop on estuary restoration hosted by Snohomish County.

The state originally assessed the fine against Everett-based Pacific Topsoils in 2007, but the appeals process didn’t conclude until the spring of 2011. The company was required to pay the penalty after the state Supreme Court declined to reconsider a lower-court ruling. Pacific Topsoils also had to remove fill remaining in a 12-acre area.

The wetlands violation occurred on Smith Island, southwest of where the restoration work finished up earlier this month.

“We looked for opportunities to invest that penalty in restoration projects in the lower estuary close to where the impacts occurred,” Stockdale said.

The work at Allen Creek is one of several channels the tribes has dug in the area to encourage new tidal channels and better drainage, said Kurt Nelson, environmental division manager for the Tulalip Tribes. The channel moved the creek away from a new levee and the nearby Brashler Industrial Park. That allows the creek to evolve more naturally and also distances it from direct stormwater discharges.

More levee work is planned for the area next year, Stockdale said.

The larger Qwuloolt project aims to restore 380 acres of farmland to its original condition as a saltwater marsh. The idea is to breach several earthen dikes to let saltwater from Possession Sound flow into the marsh north of Ebey Slough. The work is a partnership by tribal, city, state and federal governments. Planning has been ongoing for about 15 years.

The area was extensively diked from the 1860s to the 1950s to create farmland. The tribes came up with the project as required mitigation for the former Tulalip landfill west of I-5 and Highway 529 between Ebey and Steamboat sloughs. The landfill closed in 1979 and was cleaned up under federal Superfund laws.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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