Neighbors wary as Tribes prepare to flood 400 acres south of Marysville

Tulalip fisheries biologist, Maria Calvi, stands in front of 360 acres of land that the Tulalip Tribes plan to flood later this year.  To the right are tide gates that hold back seawater from the Qwuloolt Marsh, which was drained and diked a century ago. -
Tulalip fisheries biologist, Maria Calvi, stands in front of 360 acres of land that the Tulalip Tribes plan to flood later this year. To the right are tide gates that hold back seawater from the Qwuloolt Marsh, which was drained and diked a century ago.
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MARYSVILLE Some residents living close to the waterfront are wary of plans by the Tulalip Tribes to flood 400 acres of marshland later this year, but the Qwuloolt Marsh restoration project could provide lots of recreation opportunities for Marysville.
The area south of downtown and west of Sunnyside Boulevard was diked and drained a hundred years ago, affecting the discharge of Jones and Allen creeks. As part of a plan to mitigate the effects of the former garbage dump on Ebey Island, the Tribes are partnering with several other agencies to replace wetlands at the former dump site. The Qwuloolt Marsh will be similar to a wetland mitigation built by the city of Marysville more than 10 years ago just across Ebey Slough.
That 15-acre plot is now a wide mud flat that hosts the food chain salmon and other fish need to survive. The Qwuloolt project will be much larger in scale and will remove tidal gates that keep saltwater out of the area. Initial work has begun on the interior of the project by clearing and restoring the stream channels. Breeching the dike wont occur until 2010 and the three-year project will cost $3.5 million.
The goal of the project is to restore estuary tidal process to our 360 acres, said Kurt Nelson, a fish and water resources scientist who has worked for the Tribes for more than 20 years. Itll return the area to estuary conditions.
This will help salmon and create more habitat for other wildlife and will improve the chemical and biological health of the two creeks. For example, Allen Creek is clogged with non-native Canary Reed grass where it runs through Jennings Memorial Park upstream. The Marysville Parks and Recreation Department had planned to work on removing the grass with the help of volunteers from several environmental groups, plucking the grass by hand. But now they plan to let Mother Nature do the work, according to maintenance manager Mike Robinson.
The department is also working with the Tribes to develop recreational opportunities for the new dike that will keep Puget Sound waters from inundating city land. The dike will be topped with a trail for foot, bike and skate traffic and could link to future trails planned for the newly annexed East Sunnyside and Whiskey Ridge neighborhoods.
According to department director Jim Ballew, Marysville would like to have an asphalt surface to allow use by everybody but equestrian riders. Funding is not secure for that and Ballew said the citys portion would likely come from grants, possibly a bond issue.
The design is a work in progress, complicating the preliminary estimates for the cost. Right now the city is working to establish the trail route and trailheads where citizens could access the trail.
Those numbers change every 30 seconds, Ballew said. The Tribes have done an outstanding job in getting funding for the design for the proposed levy.
According to senior planner Cheryl Dungan, with the Marysville Community Development Department, the Tribes are still reviewing the technical details and the initial results came back from consultants last week. There were some concerns about the effects of a catastrophic storm surge on properties adjacent to the dike, she said.
Nelson said before the Tribes can breach the dike and remove the tide gates, an interior system of dikes will have to be built. The city of Marysville project was simpler and smaller, he added. The Tribes bought most of the acreage in 1998 and have added to the initial 260 acre purchase since then. As the site grew, so has the complexity.
The strategy there was to try to minimize restoration costs so we wouldnt have to put in these interior levies, Nelson said. Right now its just reverting to fresh water wetland which is isolated from the tidal inflow because of tide gates at the mouth of Allen Creek.
When saltwater covers the area the plant life will change dramatically, favoring species salmon and bull trout feed on. That will include insects and crustaceans the threatened fish rely on to survive. Flounder and perch will also thrive in the brackish water and will rely on the new habitats narrow channels to evade predators, according to Nelson.
When you are providing tidal input you are providing juvenile salmon habitat, Nelson said. I think the effects will be seen right away.
In time more vegetation will grow and the Qwuloolt Marsh will resemble the flats east of I-5 south of town. Trees will be planted on higher ground and the marsh should resemble the watery Ebey Island across Ebey Slough. That land was pasture before reverting to marsh.
Thats what we believe it will evolve into, Nelson said.
While the Tribes were responsible for the former Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, which filled in 147 acres of wetlands, Tribal spokesman George White pointed out that most of the waste interred there came from Seattle and Everett. That site has been cleaned up and now the Tribes are replacing the wetlands that were destroyed.
Partnering with them are three other trustees: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington State Department of Ecology. Several private agencies are also helping, including the Stilly Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service.

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