Estuary restoration work earns Sound Transit an award

MARYSVILLE — The Qwuloolt estuary project south of town aims to restore 380 acres of farmland to its original condition as a saltwater marsh.

For its part in helping the project move forward, Sound Transit is being honored with an environmental excellence award at a presentation scheduled for today.

“These are the kinds of projects that we need to undertake to restore the Puget Sound,” said Erik Stockdale, wetlands unit supervisor with the Department of Ecology, which is giving Sound Transit the award.

“We need to think big and we need to be creative and efficient with how we spend limited dollars.”

The $11 million estuary project aims to re-establish salmon habitat. The idea is to breach several earthen dikes to let saltwater from Possession Sound flow into the marsh north of Ebey Slough.

The area was extensively diked from the 1860s to the 1950s to create farmland. Tide gates were installed at the mouths of creeks to keep salt water from flooding upstream at high tide.

The Tulalip Tribes and several other organizations have been planning their project for about 15 years. The tribes came up with the project as required mitigation for the former Tulalip landfill west of I-5 and Highway 529 between Ebey and Steamboat sloughs, where companies dumped industrial waste in the 1960s and ’70s.

The tribal name for the area, Qwuloolt, means “large marsh” in Lushootseed, the American Indian language shared by Salish tribes.

Sound Transit also needed to replace shoreline habitat after it added rail lines in 2009-10 for Sounder passenger service between Seattle and Everett. Rather than do a smaller project, the regional transit agency agreed to work with the Tulalip Tribes and other organizations on the Qwuloolt estuary.

Restoring the estuary had stalled when Sound Transit stepped in to purchase three pieces of land, supplied engineering assistance to protect a neighbor from possible flooding and provided legal assistance in a dispute with another neighbor.

“We are pleased that in working with a group of very dedicated partners, Sound Transit has been able to support a very important restoration project as mitigation for shoreline construction associated with increasing Sounder commuter rail service to Everett,” said Ellie Ziegler, Sound Transit senior environmental planner, in a statement.

The Ecology Department is scheduled to present the award to the Sound Transit Board of Directors at a meeting at 1:30 p.m. today in Union Station’s Ruth Fisher Boardroom, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle.

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