By Dan Bartelheimer
I have been farming within Snohomish County for more than 40 years. My grandparents started farming in the county more than 100 years ago.
Snohomish County is proposing a “restoration” project on Smith Island, which is located north of Everett on the east side of I-5. The project will remove and relocate a section of dike and destroy 400 acres of agricultural land by subjecting it to tidal salt water flooding. The intent is to create habitat that will benefit fish.
The soils on Smith Island have been identified by the USDA, Soil Conservation Service, as “Puget” — a silty clay loam. This is a very desirable, productive soil.
The Smith Island restoration project is very similar to the Drainage District 6 project in the Fobes Hill area. That project allowed tidal and flood waters to inundate the ag land with the intention of providing fish habitat and increasing the fish population.
The DD6 restoration project has been a dismal disaster. Cost overruns were tenfold. The newly formed warm ponded waters did not create any fish habitat. No resolution has been brought forward to fix or make this $7 million project effective. There has been no accountability. Why doesn’t the county make the necessary improvements to make this project effective before spending nearly $20 million on a similar project on Smith Island?
Thousands spent on fish stream restoration projects will produce more fish than the millions to be spent on the proposed Smith Island project.
The county needs to review its approach to fish, agriculture and the infrastructure. There are ways to enhance fish numbers and habitat without destroying ag land and eliminating infrastructure. Smith Island is protected with a dike and a number of tide gates. New tide gates could be installed that would allow fish passage. This alternative would leave the island in ag and provide comparable fish habitat at less than 5 percent of the cost of the proposed project.
I’d like to close with a situation that happened several years ago. Floodwaters had deposited debris in a fish stream and as a result, the water and fish could no longer continue down the creek to the river. Virtually all of the water breached the stream bank and flowed into the adjacent ag fields. Everyone was prevented from correcting the situation. Several years later, I asked an agent from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife why the situation should not be corrected. His response was, “that is nature’s way.” My next question was “But there may have been some endangered fish species that were being lost.” The answer was, “Dan, your missing the whole point, our (Fish and Wildlife) only concern is that at least two fish make it back up that stream each year.” How do you respond to this line of reasoning?
The proposed Smith Island restoration project needs to be reconsidered.
Dan Bartelheimer of Snohomish is vice president of the Snohomish County Farm Bureau.