Snohomish County plans to restore 17 acres on Little Bear Creek to a more natural state. (Noah Haglund/ The Herald)

Snohomish County plans to restore 17 acres on Little Bear Creek to a more natural state. (Noah Haglund/ The Herald)

Un-development: Buildings are coming down — and staying down

A habitat restoration effort on Little Bear Creek aims to offset damage from future road projects.

MALTBY — This property was a tear-down.

Crews started pulling apart a barn and outbuildings in February.

Instead of slapping up a McMansion on this partially wooded land along 58th Avenue SE, Snohomish County doesn’t plan to build anything. The idea is to make it a better home for wild flora and fauna, particularly fish that swim through Little Bear Creek on the south end of the property.

“The main species we think will be in proximity to the site are the fall-run Chinook and coho salmon,” said Crilly Ritz, a senior planner with the county’s Public Works Department.

There’s also evidence of kokanee, Ritz said.

For the county, the project represents a new way of doing business.

It’s meant to offset environmental damage from road projects that have yet to be built — things like widening two-lane roads to four. Federal, state and local regulations require environmental improvements, also known as mitigation, to make up for harm that construction does to habitat. The county calls this project “advance mitigation.”

The goal is for the Little Bear Creek site to satisfy habitat requirements for up to 11 future road projects in an area that also includes the Swamp Creek and North Creek watersheds.

Snohomish County is restoring a stretch of land along Little Bear Creek, near Maltby, to offset environmental impacts from future road projects. (Snohomish County)

Snohomish County is restoring a stretch of land along Little Bear Creek, near Maltby, to offset environmental impacts from future road projects. (Snohomish County)

“All of these watersheds drain to the Sammamish River and to Lake Washington,” Ritz said.

By doing it well ahead of actual road-building, the county hopes to save money, potentially cutting mitigation costs in half through streamlining — in more ways that one.

At 17 acres, the site offers a good opportunity to improve habitat in the rapidly developing area between Bothell and Woodinville. It’s an alternative to restoring bits and pieces of land next to road projects as they come up.

The site offers an opportunity to improve habitat in the rapidly developing area between Bothell and Woodinville. (Snohomish County)

The site offers an opportunity to improve habitat in the rapidly developing area between Bothell and Woodinville. (Snohomish County)

“We’re able to just have a more functional site,” Ritz said. “A lot of time you’ll have a small site, but it’s surrounded by residential growth or maybe commercial uses. This one is large.”

The county paid $800,000 for the four parcels that make up the site. Work to bring the area to a more natural state is expected to cost $1.2 million, according to an early estimate.

For now, the land on the corner of 58th Avenue and 238th Street SE is a work in progress.

There are typical native trees, including Douglas fir and red alder, as well as Sitka spruce, not so common in this mostly urban area. Large cedar stumps provide a hint at what used to grow there.

So far, 15 buildings have been torn down, Ritz said. A former owner had used the property for exotic breeds of cattle, llamas and exotic birds.

A former owner had used the property for exotic breeds of cattle, llamas and exotic birds. (Snohomish County)

A former owner had used the property for exotic breeds of cattle, llamas and exotic birds. (Snohomish County)

The county needs permits to remove three other buildings in wetland areas. An old house should be torn down soon.

Construction is likely to start in the summer of 2020. Crews will haul away fill, remove pipes and re-recreate more natural stream channels.

“We’ll be monitoring the project site for a minimum of 10 years,” Ritz said.

The county is trying to wrap up the environmental review process. A comment period for a determination of non-significance is set to run until April 29.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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