Silt clogs a lane at the 10th Street Boat Launch in Everett on Wednesday. Port of Everett officials say sediment has been pouring in from the Snohomish River at a much greater rate than usual. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Silt clogs a lane at the 10th Street Boat Launch in Everett on Wednesday. Port of Everett officials say sediment has been pouring in from the Snohomish River at a much greater rate than usual. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

At Everett boat launch, a sand bar is stranding seafarers

The pileup of silt from the Snohomish River is proving to be problematic. The port plans to dig it out.

EVERETT — The largest boat launch in the state is getting invaded by a sand bar.

Port officials say sediment has been pouring in at a much greater rate than usual at Everett’s 10th Street Boat Launch.

The culprit? The Snohomish River. Accomplices? More extreme weather events and a shift in the historical flows of the river.

This past decade has seen more severe storms, and with it more flooding, said Laura Gurley, the port’s director of planning. “With more water comes more sediment,” she said.

The silt is problematic. More than 30,000 vessels set off each year from the 13-lane boat launch, co-owned by the port, the city of Everett and Snohomish County. It’s used for recreation, commerce, Department of Defense operations, emergency response and tribal fishing. And it’s a vital connection for Hat Island residents.

At lower tides, there have been more and more reports of boaters getting stranded near the boat launch. At times, the north end of the launch becomes unusable. Port officials fear the impacts could one day be more dire than someone getting stranded for a sunny afternoon.

“Thousands of boaters depend on the launch and surrounding waterways to be accessible at all tide levels, including our local emergency responders who provide critical on-the-water life safety services. Having a response vessel unable to reach the river channel during a rescue mission quickly could become a life or death situation and we cannot have that,” port CEO Lisa Lefeber said in a statement.

So the port is going to hire someone to dig out the boat launch, as well as part of the sand bar. Literally.

Last month, the port announced it’s accepting bids for the work. Whoever gets the contract, which should be awarded this fall, will use cranes outfitted with clamshell buckets to scoop out the muck. Then they’ll barge the silt to somewhere near Port Gardner, where it’ll be dropped into an open water disposal site — basically a big hole in Puget Sound. The work should take place this winter and will have to be completed by Feb. 15 to protect fish runs.

The Port of Everett is planning to dredge the area around the 10th Street Boat Launch. (Port of Everett)

The Port of Everett is planning to dredge the area around the 10th Street Boat Launch. (Port of Everett)

Sediment build-up at the boat launch is nothing new. It sits by the mouth of a large river that is perpetually pushing out silt as the water carves its way through Snohomish County. So dredging happens about every decade.

But there’s never been a sand bar like the one that’s formed just outside the boat launch, and there’s never been quite this much to dig out, said Gurley. Ten years ago, crews dug up 25,000 cubic yards of sand. This winter, they’re expected to take out 41,000 cubic yards, or about 4,000 dump truck loads. As a result, the project this winter will be twice as expensive, at $1.2 million.

“We’ve never seen this high of sedimentation,” port spokesperson Catherine Soper said.

That spot by the boat launch and the federal navigation channel is a no-man’s land — or rather, no-man’s water — that’s never been dredged before, Gurley said. So getting the right permits is a complicated affair, involving a smorgasbord of agencies, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which does most of the dredging in the channel between Everett and Jetty Island. The emergency authorization hasn’t been granted, but Gurley promised the port is working on it.

Even when the dredging is authorized, it’s a Band-Aid solution that might last a couple of years, Gurley said. It likely won’t be long until it fills back up with sediment. The next step will be to get more permanent permits that will allow for more frequent dredging over a greater area.

In the meantime, boaters should exercise caution by checking tides for their anticipated departure and return times. (It’s the return time that people most often forget about, Soper said.) And they should understand vessel draft — that is, how far their boat goes below the water’s surface.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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