City works to protect salmon habitat

February 2, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

By Dona Mokin

The city will prevent development along a sliver of Issaquah Creek in the Sycamore neighborhood as part of a broader plan to restore salmon habitat in a municipal park.

Officials said the Squak Valley Park North restoration project — set to begin this summer — will improve the creek as workers restore habitat and reconnect the waterway to the historic floodplain.

But the plan also heightened flooding concerns for a nearby resident.

The plan caught the attention of longtime Issaquah resident Linda Hjelm, who questioned whether the decision to remove part of a levee and alter habitat at the site could put nearby homes at higher risk from floodwaters.

City Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said any effort to remove the entire levee would be too difficult and expensive to undertake. Instead, the city and a consultant proposed a plan to breach the circa-1930 levee and expand the floodplain at the park along Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast. The completed project should allow the creek to resume a more natural, meandering flow. Workers will also create a new levee closer to Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast.

On the opposite of the creek from the park sits the Sycamore neighborhood. The park boundaries wedge the Squak Valley Park North against the city limits along the eastern edge.

Hjelm raised questions about why the city presented the project as habitat restoration, and did not address flood concerns. Although she cited the need for salmon-habitat preservation, she said the city should factor possible impacts to residents into the plan.

“Their plans don’t always work out the way they want them to,” Hjelm added.

The longtime resident pointed to past floods, when the creek overflowed into Sycamore houses and other nearby residences. Sycamore already faces risks from floodwaters, and the January 2009 flood hit the neighborhood hard.

Hjelm raised the concerns with the mayor and City Council members last month. Mayor Ava Frisinger responded in a Jan. 27 letter. Frisinger said city officials first considered levee proposals more than a decade ago as city officials evaluated the response to a major 1996 flood.

Early proposals called for the levee to be removed. Frisinger said the levee isolates a portion of the Issaquah Creek floodplain from carrying flood water, and causes higher water levels in the creek and nearby properties during floods.

In 1999, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a habitat-restoration project similar to the effort launched by the city. Corps engineers determined a levee near Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast could protect the road and nearby homes, Frisinger wrote in the letter.

Frisinger and Ritland said the project would not exacerbate the flood risk for the affected stretch along Issaquah Creek.

“Flooding alleviation has always been part of what the city is looking for,” Frisinger said.

Crews will focus on about eight acres along both the eastern and western creek banks. Besides the levee project, workers will add logs salvaged from Harvey Manning Park at Talus to improve salmon habitat in the creek.

“The habitat that’s lacking for the salmon is the kind we want to put in,” Ritland said.

The city hired The Watershed Co., a Kirkland environmental consultant and landscape architecture firm, to design the project.

Officials bought land across the creek from the park, in Sycamore, for the project. The city bought 1.9 acres of undeveloped land — spread across four properties — along Issaquah Creek last month.

The cost for the land acquisition totaled $595,000 — including a $450,000 grant from the state Wildlife and Recreation Program Riparian Protection Account and a $250,000 grant from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Money not used for land acquisition will be used for habitat restoration on the properties.

Another $712,000 has been secured for the restoration project, including a $320,000 King Conservation District grant.

City Council members authorized Mayor Ava Frisinger to buy the latest piece — a conservation easement — in a Jan. 19 vote. The council discussed the deal in a closed-door executive session, and then, during a public vote, authorized Frisinger to buy the creekside easement. City officials bought the easement soon after the meeting.

Money from a state grant was used to pay for the $32,000 easement on a narrow, 0.21-acre strip. The terms of the agreement will allow the city some limited, passive recreation use for the land, such as walking trails.

Officials will work with The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust on the project. The organization will coordinate several volunteer events to plant thousands of native trees and shrubs.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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