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Save our marsh: Grassroots group sees chance to further protect natural habitat in Edmonds


Last updated 11/1/2018 at Noon

Joe Scordino of Save Our Marsh, in front of Edmonds Marsh, with the 22 acres owned by WSDOT in the far background: “Making this area into a wildlife sanctuary would have extensive benefits to our community and to our planet.”

The Edmonds Marsh – a 22.5-acre wildlife sanctuary and home to hundreds of species of permanent and migratory birds – is an important natural habitat that city leaders and vocal proponents agree needs protection.

In other words, pretty much leave it alone.

But what about the 22 acres south of the marsh, the old Unocal tank farm property which the Washington State Department of Transportation officially plans to purchase early next year?

(WSDOT bought the Unocal land for $8.175 million, but it’s still owned by Chevron until cleanup of the site is complete. There have been several amendments to the agreement; the original is from 2005. The land will not be turned over to the state until Chevron and Ecology sign an agreement, expected in 2019.)

After reading through the Washington State Ferries’ latest newly released 2040 draft long-range plan, the local grassroots group Save Our Marsh saw an opening.

In particular, members determined that, for the first time in years, the draft report did not mention Edmonds Crossing, an old plan to move the ferry terminal at Main Street south to the area down the steep hill leading from the current home of the Point Edwards condominiums.

Edmonds Crossing, which dates back to at least 1991, was a $237 million multimodel regional project intended to accommodate future growth in travel along the State Route 104 corridor, joining ferries, buses and train traffic in one location.

That project, supported by the City of Edmonds, died after voters nixed a huge tax proposal in 2007. The next year, a recession effectively ended the project’s momentum.

“Now that we know the old Unocal property isn’t going to be used for a new ferry terminal, Edmonds residents need to work together to ensure that the property is put to good use,” said Joe Scordino, a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist and vocal member of Save Our Marsh.

“These 22 acres could be made into a parking lot for a ferry holding area, it could have high density housing built on it, or it could become a wildlife sanctuary that extends the benefits of the Edmonds Marsh and brings back salmon.

“Making this area into a wildlife sanctuary would have extensive benefits to our community and to our planet.”

To make its point, Save Our Marsh on Oct. 22 mailed a letter to Roger Millar, WSDOT secretary of transportation: “We are writing to you,” the letter began, “to request you consider making the WSDOT-owned area of the old Unocal site in Edmonds a wildlife area to augment the adjacent Edmonds Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary and allow for an important salmon restoration project.”

The hope is to allow for construction of tidal channels through the property as part of the marsh restoration project to “daylight” – or uncover – tidal connections between it and Puget Sound, making it once again accessible for migrating salmon, including the endangered juvenile Chinook.

“The result would not only be a valuable urban oasis of nature for Edmonds-area residents, but also an improved eco-tourist attraction, with accompanying economic benefits,” Scordino said.

“The resulting greater health of the marsh could support salmon runs, with not just benefits for fishing and endangered salmon, but for endangered orcas as well.”

History of the marsh

The Edmonds Marsh is located west of SR 104, east of the railroad tracks, and between the Point Edwards condos in the south and Harbor Square to the north. It’s what’s left of what was originally a large barrier estuary and marsh complex that extended north to beyond where the ferry dock is today. There are also portions of the marsh on the east side of SR 104.

It didn’t take long for the marsh to start disappearing. Edmonds founder George Brackett dug ditches to drain the marsh for his sawmills near the waterfront in 1880, 10 years before Edmonds officially became a city. In 1892, Great Northern Railway completed tracks and a dike along the shore.

Unocal began operation of its bulk fuel terminal in 1923 (it closed in 1991), where the Point Edwards condos are today. And in 1962, saltwater inflow to the marsh was eliminated with the construction of a tide gate. The gate was reopened in 1988 to allow the wetlands to begin its return to its pre-development saltwater condition.

Today, Willow Creek flows into Puget Sound through a 1,200-foot pipe, restricting marsh access by migrating salmon.

Is there a plan?

Washington State Ferries is currently drafting a response to Save Our Marsh’s letter, said spokeswoman Hadley Rodero.

“The long-range plan does not reference the Unocal property,” Rodero said. “It does acknowledge the existing constraints of the Edmonds terminal and how projected ridership growth on this busy route means we will need to do something to address congestion in the next 10 years.”

For that, the plan calls for WSF to work with the community to determine the best solution for operational challenges at the Edmonds terminal. A 45-day comment period on the plan ended Oct. 25.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of people so far, which we will incorporate as we finalize the plan by the end of the year,” Rodero said.

It should be noted that, in WSF’s 2040 long-range plan, a bullet point reads, “Edmonds multimodal terminal improvements are proposed in the long term.”

The 22-acre property owned by WSDOT is east of the railroad tracks and just north of the Point Edward condominiums.

Scordino, of course, and Save Our Marsh hope that the Edmonds Marsh is protected and not butting up against the possible future home of housing, shops and other construction.

Save Our Marsh, in its letter, wrote that, “If WSDOT is not in a position to manage this land as a wildlife reserve, would WSDOT consider transferring the property to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as a wildlife area, or to state parks or the City of Edmonds?”

Said Scordino: “Let your voices be heard so that the long-term benefits, rather than short-term gain, will be considered when the decision is made about this land. Urge WSDOT and city officials to support making the old Unocal site into a wildlife reserve with salmon streams and trails for people to view nature and wildlife.”


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