The Everson family got a new backyard after the city of Lake Stevens had to install a new city culvert under their property. (Isabella Breda / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ collapsed culvert needs new fish-friendly fix

The city replaced a broken culvert earlier this year to address flooding. The work isn’t done.

LAKE STEVENS — Some residents along 99th Avenue SE wondered when the day would come that a struggling culvert under the road would cause problems.

Frank Monkman, 64, who has lived on the road for over 20 years, said he recognized the culvert under 99th was restricting the creek’s flow in 2019. The water wasn’t yet spilling over the road, but it was only a few feet away.

“And it was very clear … that there’s a problem with this,” Monkman said. By Jan. 2021, water “was starting to cross the road.”

Lake Stevens residents have been dealing with flooding for years, in a city with no shortage of streams and wetlands. In 2018, Callow and Grade roads were submerged by a rainstorm. Early this year, one resident started a petition asking the mayor to address chronic flooding downtown.

Mayor Brett Gailey said the city typically relies on residents to report broken and failing culverts by calling public works or completing an online work request. Recently, Gailey said a resident posted about a blocked culvert on social media and the city was able to clean it out.

“This is the stuff we need to know before the flooding,” said Gailey, who wants the city to be more proactive about culvert maintenance.

The city did not address the culvert under 99th until it began to flood.

Gailey said the city is stepping back “and making sure we’re doing good asset management … culverts are a perfect example of that.” Gailey said the city is building an inventory of culverts in need of maintenance and hopes to develop a GIS system eventually.

According to its permit application to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the city learned about the broken culvert under 99th on Dec. 22, 2020. The city was issued an expedited permit in early February.

“It wasn’t an emergency per se,” Public Works Director Eric Durpos said. But the culvert “did collapse.”

The failing culvert put the roadbed at risk of eroding. Gailey said it also caused the basement of a nearby home to flood.

Stitch Creek — listed as a fish-bearing stream by Fish and Wildlife — passes through the culvert. It’s a small, somewhat seasonal creek that runs through shallow muddy banks. Its headwaters burble near the culvert, and it meanders through private properties before feeding into Stitch Lake, more of a pond encircled with lily pads, where people fish for bass and cutthroat trout.

According to the city’s original permit, the plastic pipe used to replace the broken metal pipe is a temporary fix, because it “would continue to be classified as a fish barrier. Therefore, a permanent solution would be necessary to eliminate the current fish barrier.”

The stream flows through the culvert, then Monkman’s property.

In the early 2000s, Monkman worked with the Snohomish Conservation District to replant the stream banks with the aim of restoring the health of the stream — which he said once had fish swimming through it.

Today, Stitch Creek is ready for fish to return, he said, but the city has a role in making it inhabitable.

Last week, the city started an application to improve fish passage at the culvert. This is just a placeholder for a future improvement project, said Shannon Farrant, stormwater management coordinator for the City of Lake Stevens. The expectation is the city will update the 17-inch plastic pipe to current Fish and Wildlife standards, Farrant said.

The city is adding the fish passage project to its capital improvements list. Next steps include a feasibility study, a conceptual plan and requests for grant funding.

According to the Snohomish County’s Fish Passage Culvert Program website, replacing fish-barrier culverts can range from $300,000 to $1 million.

In early 2021, the Everson family gave the city the go-ahead to uproot their yard to perform emergency maintenance on the collapsed culvert.

The city chose to go through Eversons’ yard rather than tear up the public road because it could save money, Durpos said.

“We were the spectacle of the neighborhood for a while,” Rebekah Everson said.

The work spanned from 99th Avenue SE to their back door. Their lawn and back porch step were torn out in the process.

“We thought they were just working out there,” said Greg Everson, gesturing to his lawn. “And they’re like, ‘No, you’ve got to remove everything. We’re digging out your porch and everything.’”

The city used a method called pipe bursting — dragging a new pipe through the existing pipe — to replace the failing metal pipe with a high-density polyethylene pipe.

“So this trenchless process actually saved us quite a bit of money and time and disruptions,” Durpos said.

The entire project — including landscaping, rocks, materials and equipment rentals — was around $100,000, plus the cost of labor, according to checks approved by city council.

In turn, “we got a brand new backyard,” Greg Everson said.

Landscaping for the Eversons’ yard made up about one-fourth of the project cost. The city hired Garrison Creek Landscaping for the job.

The culvert includes an overflow and a trash rack — a grated filter on the outside of the pipe that will help prevent it from clogging with debris, Durpos said.

In regard to future maintenance, Durpos said, “Oh, boy, well, I’m hoping (there’s) not a lot.” He said the culvert, like others throughout the city, will be monitored after rainstorms.

Lake Stevens didn’t have a stormwater coordinator for most of 2020, according to a March letter notifying the Department of Ecology of the city’s non-compliance to Ecology’s stormwater permit.

The former coordinator left her position in March 2020. Farrant, the city’s current coordinator, was introduced to the city council in November 2020.

In the intervening months, the city did not provide a required training program that would teach field staff how to report and clean up illicit discharge, according to the city’s letter to Ecology.

The city hopes residents will continue to report blocked or broken culverts before it becomes an emergency, Gailey said.

“If they’ve got a problem,” he said, “they need to let us know.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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