An early winter sunrise is reflected in Lake Ballinger in December of 2018. (David Carlos)

An early winter sunrise is reflected in Lake Ballinger in December of 2018. (David Carlos)

Editorial: A Terrace creek puts infrastructure plan to work

Restoring Hall Creek’s meandering path will treat stormwater while providing a natural park.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Mountlake Terrace and its now nearly 10-year project to turn a defunct municipal golf course into a more naturalized park may be one of the first projects to be completed with significant funding from the federal infrastructure package that Congress passed last year.

If a largely passive park with trails, boardwalks and footbridges and opportunities for bird watching, natural vistas and quiet enjoyment amid the growth and development of south Snohomish County doesn’t sound like “infrastructure,” take a closer look, specifically at the park’s Hall Creek, says Jeff Betz, the city’s recreation and parks director.

“What we hope to do, the main piece is Hall Creek. It’s really about restoring the habitat of Hall Creek and the surrounding area for amphibians, birds and potential salmon habitat and really trying to bring back that native growth,” Betz said.

Think of the park as a huge rain garden, providing stormwater treatment, aiding habitat and sustaining native plants and animals and improving Lake Ballinger’s water quality.

Plans to re-imagine the former 42-acre golf course, combined with existing city land into a 55-acre park, disguises a necessary infrastructure project: more natural stormwater treatment that improves the water quality of Lake Ballinger to the park’s south, improves bird and animal habitat and increases recreational opportunities for the city’s 21,000 residents and surrounding communities.

Currently, Hall Creek wouldn’t be mistaken by many for a creek; it’s mostly a ramrod-straight ditch that runs through the former golf course and is now choked with milfoil and other invasive water plants that have spread into the lake.

Designs for the project will restore a more meandering course for the creek, with wetlands, native plant species, bank restoration and more, providing a more natural flow for the creek that will slow the creek’s water and allow the creek and its plantings to absorb more of the nutrients that are contributing to growth of nonnative invasive plant species in Lake Ballinger.

In time, as culvert replacement work continues to remove barriers to fish passage elsewhere, a more natural Hall Creek might even see the return of salmon, Betz said.

While less space is available at the park’s north end to change the creek’s path, the naturalized creek to the park’s south will feature a boardwalk and a new footbridge near the senior center at the park.

With an estimated price tag of more than $5 million, this isn’t a project that Mountlake Terrace, or most cities, could handle on its own. About 65 percent of the project will be funded by federal money — about $3.25 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, another $1 million in recreation and wildlife grants from the state and about $875,000 of the city’s own money, Betz said.

The federal and state funds, Betz said, do come with strings and reporting requirements, but those regulations assure taxpayer funds are being used as intended.

The city’s ongoing work with the Army Corps was one reason Betz was recently asked to speak during an online conference call with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and the Biden administration’s infrastructure implementation coordinator, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who walked other local government officials through some of the hoops of infrastructure funding.

“It’s a difficult process,” Betz said. “Even the state’s process is difficult for some jurisdictions.”

Major assistance, Betz said, came from Larsen and his staff, as well as that of the Army Corps.

So the federal money will do its job to improve water quality; the state’s money will improve habitat and the local funds will “get people in the park to be able to enjoy it,” he said.

Since the golf course closed in December of 2012, the planning process for the park has been long and methodical, but with several public meetings where visions for the park were shared. Design work for the park, completed by the same firm that redesigned Seattle’s Magnuson Park and Spokane’s Riverfront Park, is now complete, and Betz expects the project to go out for bids in the coming months. Construction is expected next spring through fall.

“It’s been a long road, but these kinds of projects take a long time and require a lot of partners,” Betz said.

More infrastructure projects, totaling $8.6 billion in projects to Washington state will follow, including $4.7 billion for repair and maintenance of highways; $605 million for bridge repair and maintenance; $1.79 billion for public transportation; $882 million for water system improvements; $385 million for airport projects, including $16 million for Paine Field; $172 for culvert replacement and other salmon habitat restoration work; and at least $100 million to bring broadband internet to unserved and underserved rural and urban areas. A detailed look at other projects in Larsen’s 2nd Congressional District is available at tinyurl.com/WA2Infrastructure.

But Hall Creek’s slow meander through Ballinger Park will serve as an early example of the investments provided by the partnership of the federal infrastructure package and state and local funding.

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