King County Flood Control District preserves dollars for salmon projects

June 19, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah salmon-restoration projects could garner grant dollars after all, even though a lawsuit threatened to cut off funds for conservation projects countywide.

King County Flood Control District leaders decided to fund salmon-recovery projects after the King Conservation District stopped doling out grants amid a legal challenge.

Flood Control District officials approved $3 million May 14 for projects to improve water quality, protect and restore habitat, and support salmon recovery efforts. King County Council members sit as the executive board for the Flood Control District.

The decision is meant to plug a gap left after the King Conservation District halted a separate process to issue salmon-recovery grants.

The district stopped the process after the state Supreme Court ruled against the way the Mason Conservation District collected fees. The local district used the same process to collect a flat fee from most King County landowners.

So, with the grant program on hold and King Conservation District formulating another system to collect dollars for programs, county officials stepped into the fray.

“Until that all comes into play and we know what it looks like, we’ve got this gap,” Mark Isaacson, King County Water and Land Resources Division director, said in a recent interview. “With that gap, we have to figure out what to do.”

County officials identified a pair of Issaquah projects as possible grant recipients — salmon habitat restoration at downtown Issaquah Creek-side parks and the mouth of Lewis Creek at Lake Sammamish.

“The mouths of small creeks coming into Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are important for juvenile chinook salmon, and it’s almost an important stream for kokanee, which are really in trouble in the Lake Sammamish watershed,” Jean White, coordinator for Lake Washington-Cedar-Sammamish Watershed, said in a recent interview.

The decision from Flood Control District leaders does not guarantee funding for Issaquah, but officials said the projects have a good chance of receiving funds.

“Restoring and protecting our watersheds is critically important to the ecological health of our region and the food chain that supports our ecosystem — from the mountaintops to the shores of Puget Sound,” Flood Control District Chairwoman Julia Patterson said in a statement. “Those are values we all embrace in the Pacific Northwest.”

Officials already identified and evaluated the projects for grant funding before the King Conservation District decision to stop grant awards.

“We had to cancel it when we found out the Mason County lawsuit affected the King Conservation District and there were no 2012 funds,” White said.

King Conservation District officials could start charging landowners a rate based upon acreage rather than a flat fee.

In the past, the district collected a $10 per-parcel fee from most county landowners. Supreme Court justices declared the Mason County flat fee as an unconstitutional property tax.

The change to a rate based on acreage could mean less funding in the future for the conservation district.

“That will be becoming clearer over the next few months,” White said.

The county plans to administer the grant allocation process. Flood Control District leaders should oversee the project selections.

“The reason we wanted to make a decision now is because many of these projects need to go through design and permitting, and that’s what we do during this time of year,” Isaacson said. “We wanted to keep those moving so that these projects could be constructed next year.”

The funding is allocated for 2012 only. Officials expect the King Conservation District to restore a grant program by 2013.

“Numerous local organizations are making great strides to restore and protect our natural areas, recover salmon and keep our water clean,” Supervisor Reagan Dunn said in a statement. “This funding will ensure they can keep up their great work that benefits both the environment and our economy.”

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