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Port of Everett, Washington wins AAPA 2001 Environmental Improvement Award

Post Date:09/04/2001

The Port of Everett’s Union Slough Saltmarsh Mitigation Project has been selected as the winner of the American Association of Port Authorities’ (AAPA) 2001 Environmental Improvement Awards Competition under the Mitigation Category.  The award will be presented to a representative of the Port of Everett on October 3 during the AAPA 2001 Annual Convention in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

The Port of Everett Union Slough project illustrates how mitigation banking allows development, while increasing and improving local marine habitat.  Using this approach, the Port of Everett applied 12 acres of newly created marsh and mudflat habitat in the Snohomish Estuary as mitigation for the loss of 9.4 acres of industrially disturbed shallow water habitat in the Everett Harbor.  The remaining acreage in the 19-acre mitigation site will be jointly administered as a mitigation bank by the Port and the Washington State Department of Ecology.  Pentec Environmental of Edmonds, Washington will conduct a long-term monitoring program to quantify the benefits of the Union Slough habitat for salmon, shore birds, waterfowl, and shellfish.

“As Dennis Gregoire (the Port’s former Director of Planning) mentioned many times, this strategy is a win-win-win for the fish, the Port, and the regulatory agencies involved,” said Graham Anderson, Senior Planner for the Port of Everett.  “Mitigation banking allows us to take a more comprehensive look at the impacts of current and future projects and to plan accordingly.  Then we can build one large mitigation project, which is much more cost-effective for us than mitigating project-by-project.  The fish get large contiguous areas added to the estuarine habitat, providing them good habitat to use before there is a loss of habitat elsewhere.  And it is easier for regulators because it is coordinated with the regional plan.”

“This is a very prestigious award and something that we can all take great pride in,” said Commissioner Phil Bannan.  “This award underscores the Port’s commitment to its Mission Statement which calls for ‘responsible stewardship of Port assets . . . while respecting the guidelines of good environmental planning.’ ”  “The Port of Everett would also like to acknowledge Jon Houghton of Pentec Environmental for his technical contribution and assistance to Port Staff during the preparation of the Environmental Improvement Award Competition application for submittal to AAPA,” said Bannan.

In the mid-1990s, the Port of Everett undertook an expansion of its marine terminals to accommodate specialized cargo containers used by the Boeing Company to ship 777 parts to its Everett plant.  Part of the expansion project included the need to dredge existing berths and dispose of the sediment.  Portions of the dredged sediments were contaminated, and disposal on land would have cost up to $100 per cubic yard.  For much less, about $30 per cubic yard, the Port could use the sediments as a nearshore fill, which could then be used for development of the marine terminal.

The area proposed for the terminal had been used for a variety of heavy industrial purposes for the last 90 years.  The Port hired Pentec Environmental to evaluate the area, and monitoring showed that the former industrial property had marginal value as habitat.  The first environmental benefit from the project was the voluntary cleanup of 10 acres of contaminated bottom sediments in the harbor.  In addition, mitigation banking provided the opportunity to convert the contaminated sediment disposal area to productive economic use, while creating a larger off-site habitat with much higher value to fish and wildlife.

Large areas near Union Slough, a major distributary channel of the Snohomish River, had been diked early in the 20th century for use as farmland.  Subsequently, some of this farmland has been abandoned and has naturally returned to its original state as marshland. Studies have shown these areas support high use by wildlife and anadromous fish.  The Port reasoned that reclaiming similar land would not only be easier, but more likely to be successful than other mitigation options. 

The Port identified a 32-acre parcel near Union Slough between SR529 and Interstate 5 that was formerly farmland, but zoned for industrial use.  It was owned by a developer who had received permitting approval to fill in the land for development.  The Port bought the property in 1991.

Working with consultants Pentec Environmental and Reid Middleton, Inc. of Everett, Washington, designs were drawn-up to create a wetland that would simulate a saltwater marsh that looked and functioned naturally.  To maximize the benefits and feeding opportunities the site would provide for salmon, Pentec recommended a central channel with shallower channels feeding into it.  Reid Middleton worked with the Washington State Department of Transportation to design a new dike along I-5 to contain the proposed wetland entirely on Port property and prevent erosion of the adjacent freeway embankment.

In the spring of 2000, the Port selected earthwork contractor Grade, Inc. of Woodinville, Washington to implement the plans, with on-site work starting during the summer of 2000.  To minimize construction impacts, the majority of the earthwork was accomplished prior to inundating the site. “We learned a lot about creating wetlands,” said Jack Olson, recently retired Director of Engineering at the Port.  “Two factors—a very resourceful contractor, Grade Inc., and a dry winter—were critical to the process.  Tracked dump trucks were used to move the unstable material, and a track hoe with a 70‑foot boom was necessary for the dike breach operation.  We are pleased with the results.”

By mid-winter 2001, channels were dug, the new dike was constructed, and all site grading was complete.  On February 6, the final step was taken which would allow the natural ebb and flow of the tide into the new saltmarsh. Working nearly around the clock and following the tide out, Grade, Inc. breached the old dike by excavating nearly 1,500 cubic yards of earth in one night.  The following morning, with the rising tide, the site was flooded, again becoming a wetland for the first time in nearly a century.

Less than two months later, proof of the project’s initial success came in the form of hundreds of juvenile salmon feeding in the area on their way to Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.  Use by waterfowl and shorebirds has also already been documented, and marsh plants are beginning to colonize the newly created habitat.

While initial plans were to allow the site to vegetate naturally over time, volunteers helped enhance the project by planting native vegetation along the banks of the new dike.  To accomplish this, staff members from Pentec and the Port donated time to plant many different varieties of indigenous plants.  Weyerhaeuser also donated 100 fir trees, which were planted by a local girl’s soccer team (the Shooting Stars) and their family members.
Although permits for this project had been issued several years ago, final approval for construction was held up for a year because of the backlog from the listing of salmon species under the Endangered Species Act.  Because the Port’s intention was to create a mitigation site concurrent with construction of the marine terminal, they negotiated to restrict intertidal log raft storage on Jetty Island as an interim mitigation action.  Removing log rafts was expected to immediately enhance habitat for eelgrass, birds, crab, and fish so that there would be no interim loss of habitat function while the Union Slough project was being restored. 

As a result of excellent design and implementation and the exceptional environmental productivity of the Union Slough project, the Port of Everett has been awarded the 2001 AAPA Environmental Improvement Award for Mitigation from the American Association of Port Authorities.  This is the first AAPA environmental award for the Port of Everett.

The American Association of Port Authorities is an alliance of ports of the Western Hemisphere including the major shipping ports from the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.  AAPA is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.  Part of AAPA’s mission is to support and assist its member ports in the achievement of their economic and transportation purposes in an environmentally responsible manner. 

The Port of Everett is located on Puget Sound and handles multiple cargo types, as well as providing industrial, commercial and retail space.  The Port also provides moorage for recreational and commercial fishing vessels in the second largest marina on the Pacific Coast.

The Environmental Improvement Award submittal can be viewed here (PDF file).

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