Preservation or restoration?

The city is expected to approve two shoreline restoration studies tonight with a combined price tag of nearly $500,000. Funding for the feasibility studies and potential cleanup of Blakely Harbor Park and Strawberry Plant Park would draw from $3.3 million that has been collected from the Wycoff creosote facility’s Superfund settlement to be used specifically to restore some of the island’s eastern shorelines. The Elliott Bay Trustee Council (consisting of several state and federal agencies) also has targeted two areas near Pritchard Park for separate studies.

Ironically, it’s possible that the former industrial sites have been befouled more by their own devises than the creosote that seeped into the harbor for more than 80 years. But it’s the spoils of Wycoff that will allow the city to return the Blakely Harbor and Strawberry Plant sites to their more natural beginnings decades after they had became commercial concerns. While the public process is just beginning, it will be interesting to see how important the issue is for islanders.

It certainly won’t be easy to reach the objective of restoring a drastically altered shoreline into habitats that are healthy enough to return runs of chinook salmon and steelhead trout that vanished decades ago. Of the two, nature has reclaimed the old mill at Blakely Harbor much more than it has the Strawberry Plant site. Despite the mill being shut down in 1922 and Port Blakeley abandoned, however, the caustic effects of what was once one of the region’s largest sawmills are still evident.

Consultant Angel Environmental will consider the feasibility of numerous actions required to restore the environment. At Blakely: removal of some 265 feet of existing rock jetties, 150 feet of rip-rap, the shell of a 2,750-square-foot power plant, hundreds of stub piles and all or a portion of 350 feet of dike; the cleanup of tons of wood debris and man-made waste; and restoration of a salt-marsh and intertidal habitat at the head of bay. At the strawberry plant site in Eagle Harbor: removal of 250 feet of rip-rap, 870 cubic yards of fill, 23,500-square-feet of concrete and man-made debris; and restoration of the stream mouth, fringe marsh and intertidal habitat.

Today, Strawberry Plant Park is inaccessible and a park in name only, while the 38-acre Blakely Harbor Park is a passive facility with minimal foot traffic and use. At one time the city wanted to make it a more active public park, but those plans have been shelved for now. It’s difficult to know what will become of the two sites if they are restored, but they probably will be more accessible than they are today.

There’s no doubt that outside forces are pushing (by dangling a carrot) for the restoration of sites they consider to best fit their criteria for the settlement funds, though it’s ultimately the city’s decision on whether or not to go forward and, if it’s affirmative, then to what extent. A representative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presided over a workshop held a month ago at City Hall, the purpose of which was to gather ideas from the 40 people who attended. But it appeared obvious that the trustees, who will share their decision tonight with the City Council, favored going forward with the four aforementioned projects.

During the study part of the projects, the shoreline permitting process will be the public’s best opportunity to be involved in deciding what will be done with the island’s shorelines. While the science involving the island’s shorelines can be debated endlessly, the choices soon to be presented concerning the future of the Strawberry and Blakely sites are relatively simple: Should we keep it like it is, preserving and retaining the human footprint? Or should the money available be used to return the areas to a reasonable facsimile of it’s natural habitat?

If the outcome is important to you, and it should be because there is much at stake, then get involved.

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