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Oil spill money goes to work in Indianola estuary
INDIANOLA — Suquamish Tribe biologist Jay Zischke remembers watching winter winds drive oily water ashore in Indianola seven years ago.
A Foss Maritime barge spilled 4,800 gallons of oil into Puget Sound on Dec. 30, 2003, while filling tanks in Shoreline. By the evening, strong winds and tides pushed the spill across the sound. Containment booms strung along the shoreline weren't enough to slow its march, Zishchkey said. Storm surge carried the toxic sheen across beaches and into a tribal wetland near Camp Indianola.
Time has helped heal the Indianola shoreline in the years since the spill, but for the first time this fall, spill reparation money is also being harnessed for restoration work. The county and Suquamish Tribe broke ground this week on a project to improve water flow to a small estuary on Miller Bay, near the Indianola sandspit. The work will be funded using penalty money Foss paid to the tribe and state following the spill.
Oil never reached this pocket of water, but the estuary presents a good opportunity to improve marine wildlife habitat using the spill money, said Zischke, who has overseen the funds for the tribe.
"It's a public asset," Zischke said. "It's beautiful. Most people enjoy it as a quiet place to find some solitude."
View Indianola culvert project in a larger map
The quiet parcel of county land off Chief Sealth Drive will be a construction zone for the next two months. The county approved a $300,000 contract with Seton Construction on Monday to replace a narrow culvert under the roadway with a larger box structure to create a more natural flow of water between the estuary and Miller Bay. The wetland will also be improved with excavation and erosion prevention.
"Hopefully when we're done we'll have a much better estuary," Kristina Nelson, Kitsap Public Works Senior Program Manager, said Monday.
Foss paid the tribe $1.1 million in damages from the spill in 2007. The Seattle company was fined another $577,000 by the Department of Ecology. The bulk of estuary work will be paid for using the Department of Ecology money, Zischke said.
Seton wasted no time getting to work. Excavators began clearing brush on the banks of the estuary Tuesday morning. In the afternoon a small group of Chief Sealth Drive neighbors gathered to take in a new view of downtown Indianola formerly obscured by low trees.
“It’s kind of shocking,” Bill House said.
Most neighbors of the project said they were happy to see the little wetland get attention. Sandspit resident Dave Muller said he watches herons and osprey patrol the harbor for fish. Better habitat in the estuary will help ensure wildlife sticks around.
Neighbor Bobbi Baumueller agreed.
“I think it’s eventually going to be really good for the wildlife,” she said.
The estuary was once a healthier environment for fish. Aerial photos from the 1950s show a wide wetland feeding into Miller Bay in the days before million-dollar homes lined the sandspit. Decades of development reduced the estuary to a small pond surrounded by tangled brush. An 18-inch diameter culvert is its only outlet to the bay. Zischke said the wider opening and increased water flow created by the culvert project should bring the estuary closer to its natural state.
The estuary is the first in a series of projects the Suquamish Tribe plans to fund with spill money, Zischke said. Next may be a creosote piling removal project near Camp Indianola.
After years spent clearing legal hurdles to access the spill money, the progress is encouraging, Zischke said.
"It's nice to see something good finally happen from it," he said.
This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Jay Zischke