Improving fish habitat is a high priority for the Port of Bellingham and the State Department of Ecology. That’s why both agencies are working together to make the Bellingham Bay shoreline near Squalicum Creek more fish friendly.
In October work will begin on the two-phase habitat enhancement project. The Port selected Interwest Construction Inc. of Burlington to perform the first phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in October.
This $800,000 project will involve rebuilding fish habitat in the Squalicum Creek estuary. Derelict bulkheads, pilings and other debris will be removed and new shallow areas will be created for salmon to reproduce, feed, rest and hide from predators.
“Every step we take to improve marine habitat is a step toward improving the health of our local salmon runs,” said Port Commissioner Jim Jorgensen. “Our partnership with Ecology and the funding they are providing help make it possible to move forward on this project.”
It is the first phase of a $4.1 million multiyear project that eventually will restore the estuary and eliminate a fish passage barrier to the Squalicum Creek watershed. The second phase of the project will replace the Roeder Avenue Bridge, modify the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe concrete box culvert rail bridge, replace existing sewer lines, remove a 350-foot long concrete channel bottom between the two bridges and re-establish a natural stream bed.
“These kinds of improvements are great for the creek, the bay and fish, and for Puget Sound in general,” said Lucy McInerney, Washington Department of Ecology project manager. “This is part of a larger, coordinated effort to clean up and restore Bellingham Bay.”
Earlier this month, the state Department of Ecology awarded the Port of Bellingham an $890,000 grant to support the first phase of this important habitat project and to pay for a forage fish study. The Port is seeking grants to support the second phase of work.
Several species of salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and Chinook, the largest of the salmon, number less than one percent of traditional levels. Salmon recovery is a statewide priority
The Port is working with a multi-agency group that includes Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the City of Bellingham, to identify and launch high priority habitat restoration projects in Bellingham Bay. Squalicum Creek has the highest potential for productive fish habitat within the city limits. In 2007, DNR removed 1,700 tons of creosote pilings from the estuary. Further estuary improvements by the Port will complement extensive up-stream restoration efforts by the City.