The way it was

The Biringer Farm, an I-5 icon that has attracted generations of Snohomish County residents with its strawberries, pumpkins and pig-outs, will likely be flooded to help salmon starting in 2007.

The 360-acre farm, which was purchased by the Port of Everett in 1993 for $2.7 million, will be returned to its original state as part of the Snohomish River estuary project.

Dikes that helped turn the area from a wetland to rich farmland will be breached under an agreement the port is negotiating with Wildlands, a company that creates wetlands and sells segments of them to developers.

Port property manager Eric Russell said he expects the deal with Wildlands to be completed next week. He told port commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting that the port will form a partnership with Wildlands in which the company will plan and create the wetlands, then sell portions of them to developers.

Michael O’Leary

Strawberry lovers such as Emily O’Grady of Arlington flock to Biringer Farms.

Once Wildlands recoups its investment in creating the wetlands, it will pay off the port’s investment. Then both entities will split the profits.

The port will keep ownership of the property and will use some of the sale proceeds to create an endowment to pay for maintenance. The port also will be able to use parts of the wetlands for some of its future projects.

“We’re really excited about this partnership for many reasons,” said Sky Miller, regional manager for Wildlands. He noted that the company has some 40 miles of fish habitat that it has restored and manages.

“I’m a fisherman, and I’d like to see more fish come back, because they’re delicious,” he said.

The Biringer wetland will be an important element of salmon restoration on the Snohomish River system because it will create a food-rich estuary where young salmon can thrive.

Mike Biringer, who has farmed the land since the late 1960s, said he hoped the farm would be slowly turned into wetlands so he could continue to work it, but he understands why it won’t be.

“That’s why they bought it,” he said of the port.

Biringer’s farm is perhaps the most well known in Snohomish County because of its location along I-5 between Everett and Marysville.

For decades, it has hired young people to pick its acres of strawberries. Port Commissioner Connie Niva said Tuesday she still remembers skinned elbows and knees from picking strawberries at the farm in summer.

“There are a lot of good things connected with this,” she said of the project. “This will return the property to its original state, and that’s a good thing.”

In addition to strawberry-picking jobs, the farm has offered corn mazes, a fall pumpkin patch and an annual Pig Out with food and activities affiliated with Marysville’s Strawberry Festival.

Biringer said he’s been looking for another farm where he can move the operation “if we can find the right combination.”

“We’d like to relocate,” he added. “It will have to be a good location.”

Russell said the wetlands project should take about 10 years to create and sell. He expects the project to begin in mid-2007.

The port should ultimately earn about $15 million on the project, while maintaining control of the land, Russell said.

He said there might also be an opportunity for public access. “We’ve talked about installing some paths,” he said. “Not in the middle, but along the edges.”

What’s a wetland bank?

It’s an area of created or restored wetlands that is sold piece by piece to developers. When developers destroy wetlands with building projects, they are required to create new ones. It’s often easier for them to simply buy a portion of an existing wetland bank.

The wetland bank concept has won support from government agencies because it typically involves large areas. Most developers are required to create only small wetlands. But wetland banks are often more significant environmentally because of their size.

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