41st Street project held for more study

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Activists said Monday they earned a victory when a federal agency decided to take another look at whether traffic from a proposed overpass would harm endangered chinook by directing potentially contaminated storm water into a salmon-bearing creek.

"What I see here is the Endangered Species Act works — at least long enough to get another opinion," said Susan Adams, SmartGrowth Campaign director of Pilchuck Audubon Society.

In July, Audubon and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The fisheries agency released a biological opinion that said Everett’s road project to extend 41st Street would not harm endangered fish.

The lawsuit alleges that the biological opinion, which is supposed to guide development in ways that will not harm fish, was invalid and that the project needed to be studied again.

On Monday, Earthjustice announced that the Federal Highway Administration asked the fisheries agency for a new biological review, upon which a biological opinion is based.

Gary Hughes, operations team leader for the highway administration, said Monday that the fisheries service needs to modify its biological opinion because of a new traffic analysis being done on the project.

"We’re compelled to go this route because of the lawsuit against NMFS," Hughes said.

Also, federal money to help pay for the $16.5 million bridge hung on the blessing issued by the fisheries service.

"The fact that NMFS pulled it back should say something. It’s not like we were unfounded in our complaint," Adams said. "That was our goal, in getting a new biological opinion and in a sense we have won."

The 1,600-foot bridge is called the 41st Street overcrossing because it includes an overpass above the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe main rail line. The road will eventually lead to the elimination of a street-level crossing of the main line at 36th Street.

The road would provide access to the former location of a garbage landfill — the current site of the Snohomish County garbage transfer station. The city and state spent $10.8 million to clean up that area. The city also owns the former site of the Simpson mill next door. Various plans have been suggested for development of the area, but no decisions have been reached.

Adams believes the road extension will eventually lead to the development of roads and other buildings on the site. That development will cause problems for fish because of the storm water runoff, which can carry pollutants and heavy metals into Bigelow Creek, a salmon-bearing stream, and eventually to the Snohomish River.

"We didn’t do this to the city because we’re evil," Adams said. "We really believe the project will impact fish, and we need to get a better look at what the impacts are."

The construction of retaining walls along the west side of the railroad tracks continues as part of phase one of the 41st overpass and is expected to be complete by February.

Phase two of the project, the actual construction of the bridge over the tracks, won’t "be contemplated" until the fisheries service completes a new biological review, City Attorney Mark Soine said.

The city has agreed to prepare a wildlife preservation action plan. The city also will include measures to limit erosion, control water runoff and protect wetlands as part of the project.

"We certainly wouldn’t expect a reversal of findings out of this consultation," Soine said. "It’s a good project. It was a good project before, and it remains a good project."

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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