Smith Island project needs scrutiny

We love seafood, especially salmon, and we understand the importance of salmon to our Northwest economy and to Native Americans.

But if we are to understand and debate the Smith Island Restoration Project, we need facts, not spin and deception. For six months, citizens have voiced to the Snohomish County Council via public comment. In turn, the county offers inaccurate rebuttal on its website, tinyurl.com/SnoCoSmithIsle, where plain facts are skewed and spun in favor of its project.

First, the county calls the project a “restoration” effort, stating that the island was previously “covered with water” and only became land because it was diked and drained by farmers.

In actuality, Smith Island has been in existence for thousands of years. The Bureau of Land Management historical map of the Island from 1869, tinyurl.com/BLMSmithmap, shows that Smith Island is virtually the same shape and size today that it was in 1869, at which time it had only a couple of small levees on the north end of the island. The current dike system was not put in until the 1930s. Before that, the island interacted naturally with the surrounding water, and virtually no changes occurred to the island’s shape and size during that span of time. This project restores nothing. It destroys farmland.

Smith Island was drained of rain water to allow for planting, in the same way you would guide water away from your own home or garden, but it was never covered with salt water with the tides.

The 1869 map also shows the island’s namesake, Dr. Smith, settled near an “Indian camp” on the north end of the Island, (west of where I-5 runs today). Remarkably, this is the one area of Smith Island with direct exposure to Port Gardner Bay tides. Dr. Smith’s writings indicate periodic seasonal flooding, but this did not discourage him from living there and planting fruit trees there for nearly a decade and a half. We also know that Dr. Smith logged the island for timber. Trees do not grow where their roots are soaked with salt water.

Second, the county claims that present day farmers do not want to farm on Smith Island because the soil is poor, and that better farmland is found elsewhere in the county. But the Snohomish County Farm Bureau disputes this. In fact, at least one persistent farmer has been asking the county to sell him land on Smith Island since 2010. Another farmer who recently owned property on Smith Island tells us that the soil was excellent and no soil amendments were needed. In fact, the soil on Smith Island is not at all poor. It’s very good, and farmers would like to buy it.

Third, the county purports that this project will reverse a decline in salmon, which it says is related to estuary conditions. The fact is, only 2 percent to 4 percent of salmon live long enough to return to spawn, even in good years. So why are they not returning? Perhaps it’s caused by ocean conditions, disease or overfishing, as indicated in recent studies. tinyurl.com/CBsalmon and tinyurl.com/FishSec.

Finally, where is the evidence of increased salmon populations, resulting from other, completed restoration projects similar to Smith Island? We haven’t found any. Which begs the question: Should we pay taxes (upwards of $25 million) for an experiment?

We can have a legitimate public discussion about the value and wisdom of this project, but we implore the county to correct the information on its website. We deserve to debate the merits of the project based on facts, not spin.

Kristin Cook is the 44th District Republican Party Chairwoman and Dan Michael is with the Puget Sound Conservative Underground.

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