Bainbridge City Council, park board OK shoreline restoration at Strawberry Plant

A fish-bearing creek empties into Eagle Harbor along the east boundary of Strawberry Plant Park. - Tad Sooter/File Photo
A fish-bearing creek empties into Eagle Harbor along the east boundary of Strawberry Plant Park.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/File Photo

The Bainbridge City Council and Metropolitan Park and Recreation District board have given city planners approval to begin extensive shoreline restoration work at Strawberry Plant Park.

The bodies agreed during a joint meeting Tuesday evening that the park district would lead planning for the upland portions of the 4.7-acre Eagle Harbor property. The park is being developed in partnership between the two groups and will eventually be turned over to the park district.

City shoreline planner Peter Namtvedt Best said shoreline work will begin this year at Strawberry Plant. The city’s work plan includes removing both manmade jetties at the site, along with the concrete bulkheads, with the intent of creating new habitat for salmon and other marine species.

The plan allows for the creation of a pier to be built over the water in place of the east jetty and a non-motorized boat haulout at the mouth of the creek.

The bulk of the work is being funded by conservation grants. The city will cover 14 percent of costs, with money already bonded. Creosoted pilings were removed from the site this month through a state Department of Natural Resources program.

The restoration plan drew support from council members in attendance, with reassurance from staff that the project was fully funded.

“I think you guys did a hell of a job,” councilman Bill Knobloch said. “I can’t find any heartburn here.”

Several park board members also had positive comments.

“My greatest fear is that it will stay the way it is forever, that we won’t move forward, that something will hang this up,” board member Dave Shorrett said. “(The plan) isn’t perfect, but it’s probably the best shoreline restoration we can do under the circumstances.”

Board member Ken DeWitt and board chair Tom Swolgaard were critical of the restoration plan and the impact it could have on recreation upland.

DeWitt said the property had originally been slated for active use, but the city’s proposal was aimed at passive uses, especially when it came to the shoreline.

“I have concern that we’re not going to be getting what we were originally told we were going to be getting and that bothers me,” DeWitt said.

Swolgaard, who cast the only vote against moving the restoration work forward, said he felt the city’s plan was too restrictive and cut the shoreline back too far into the property.

“I felt like we were giving up too much,” he said of his vote.

Council members Kim Brackett and Debbie Vancil were absent, as was park board member Lee Cross.

Several citizens spoke up in favor of a more active park, and for preserving the site’s historical heritage. The property has been home to several industrial endeavors over the last century, including a strawberry packing plant.

Islander Doug Hatfield said he supports limited shoreline restoration, but pointed to the Duwamish waterway in Seattle as an example of active uses commingling with habitat.

“I’m not saying we should move industry back into Eagle Harbor,” Hatfield said. “What I’m saying is that salmon can coexist with people running around on the beach doing things, kids swimming, dogs playing. The salmon will do just fine.”

Will Shopes was among those calling for keeping historic elements on the property.

“We do have a lot of history here,” said Shopes, who chairs the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, “and it just is criminal to destroy any traces of what our forbearers, the people before us did. I think some people seem to have a tendency to say ‘put everything back the way it was 300 years ago’. I think this is a mistake.”

That sentiment was seconded by island historian Gerald Elfendahl, who had lead a citizen effort to plan a much more active Strawberry Park. The group’s designs for a wooden boat center, boat haulout and and pier at the site were on display.

“Environment, and recreation, and history, these things don’t need to be mutually exclusive elements,” Elfendahl said. “We can design together and meet all those needs.”

Historic interpretation features will likely be included in the park district’s plans for the property’s upland, much of which is restricted in its use by conservation buffers.

The city and park district held a charrette in September to draw ideas for the park. Popular elements included a non-motorized boat launch, a meadow and picnic areas, a footbridge across the creek and links to the Waterfront trail. Historic elements could include signage, and information kiosk and “ghost structures” outlining where buildings once stood.

The park district’s plans will overlap with the city’s restoration project when it comes to the asphalt pad above the shoreline.

The city has offered to remove the asphalt and create a meadow in its place, using fill from the shoreline. The work would be covered by the city’s grants. The park district will need to decide how much, if any, of the pad it wants to preserve.

Park board members made it clear that they would take the work of the charrette into account, but wanted a clean slate for planning the parkland.

“The city’s going to do the restoration work,” Dave Shorett said. “Leave the rest to us.”

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