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Bainbridge family gives shoreline back to nature

Anthony Wright from the Puget Sound Partnership, Jim Brennan from the Sea Grant, Asha Rehnberg from the land trust, Ann Powel, and her son Jake Powel break ground for the project at the Powel property. - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
Anthony Wright from the Puget Sound Partnership, Jim Brennan from the Sea Grant, Asha Rehnberg from the land trust, Ann Powel, and her son Jake Powel break ground for the project at the Powel property.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

It’s been said that Mother Nature is the best artist. But while some attempt to paint over her masterpieces, one island family is trying to restore her work back to its former glory.

Bainbridge Island has nearly 53 miles of shoreline, but today approximately 17 percent of that shoreline is undeveloped. That’s what Asha Rehnberg, executive director for the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, told a crowd gathered at the

Powel family’s home in Port Madison Bay.

The event commemorated the groundbreaking of a project which brought forth a unique partnership between private and public interests. It also attracted local notable figures such as State Sen. Christine Rolfes and Kitsap County Commissioner Robert Gelder.

The Powel’s Port Madison property covers nearly a quarter mile of shoreline. Like other shoreline properties it includes a bulkhead along the shore.

“Where (island shoreline) has been developed we very rarely see restoration take place,” said Barb Robert with the land trust. “So, truly, this family should be applauded.”

With the assistance of a cluster of state and local organizations, the Powel’s shoreline will be restored, as close as possible, to its natural state.

The project will remove a nearly 80-year-old cement bulkhead and replace it with a natural landscape that is healthier for the Puget Sound. Two barges floating in the bay will work at each end, making their way toward each other, removing cement blocks and reforming approximately a quarter mile of shoreline. Overall, 32,795 square feet of shoreline habitat will be restored.

Shoreline armoring, such as cement bulkheads, are known to be harmful to the Puget Sound environment. They can particularly hurt the habitat for salmon and other fish. With a few simple plants, and letting nature take its own course, the shoreline will be repaired.

When finished, the Powel’s shoreline will boast a natural and more pleasant appearance with native vegetation.

“I’ve been around here long enough that I’ve seen natural shorelines,” said Jake Powel who grew up on the property.

“And it isn’t bad,” he added.

The end result will be a 163-percent increase in intertidal habitat on the property — a change that will nearly triple the amount of salt marsh habitat.

The effort began in 2008 when the Powels noticed their bulkhead deteriorating.

They began investigating options to repair it, but changed course when they came across the option to restore the shoreline instead of rebuild the bulkhead.

Not only would it be less expensive, it would include a variety of interested parties to help out, such as the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the Puget Sound Partnership, a state organization that coordinates multiple groups to restore the health of Puget Sound. The interested organizations drew in even more helpful groups to assist with funding and navigating the complex realm of permitting for the project.

It would cost approximately $300 per foot to rebuild the bulkhead, coming in at around $512,000 total.

The total figures to cover the design phase and construction work for the restoration project came in around $464,000. The Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund though the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board took on the $127,000 bill to design the project. They also contributed toward the $337,000 in construction costs to implement it, along with the Powel family and the land trust.

The restoration project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The property was originally developed in 1933 along Port Madison Bay shoreline. The property is a serene vision with stone-crafted buildings, ponds and a view of bay.

Jake’s parents, Ann and John Powel, moved into the home during the 1950s. In 1992 the family granted a perpetual conservation easement on their shoreline to the Bainbridge Island Land Trust to help protect it.

Of the 47 conservation easements the land trust currently holds, eight of them protect shoreline properties including the Powels.

The project also received assistance through a Washington Sea Grant and from the Suquamish Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Westsound Watershed Council, Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, and the city of Bainbridge Island.

Robert noted that the effort is largely the product of the Powels’ initiative.

“Through it all, their love and affection for their property has come through,” Robert said. “Their caring and determination to try something new in a major way has been part of why the project has gotten his far.”

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