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Project aims to inject new life into Miller Bay

INDIANOLA — The Miller Bay Estuary in Indianola is about to get a little life put back into it.

GEO Engineers has designed a new passage to enable the ocean tides to enter and exit the estuary naturally along with salmon, herring, smelt and other sea life.

Today, the estuary’s decrepit state has one culprit: its current culvert, situated beneath Chief Sealth Drive.

The drainage pipe has a 15-inch diameter and has literally drained the life out of the estuary.

“It’s doing more harm than good,” said Joe Callaghan, senior biologist with GEO Engineering, the company responsible for designing the new culvert.

The new passageway will be a two-lane, 8-foot tall, 16-foot wide concrete archway on Chief Sealth Drive. The project is a collective effort of the Suquamish Tribe, Kitsap County Parks, Great Peninsula Conservancy, Mid-Puget Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group and the support of Indian Bay and Indianola residents.

The culvert and restoration project will take place as early as mid-June, “if all the celestial proponents allign,” said Jay Zischke, representing the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a private non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting natural habitats and open spaces. Zischke also works as a fisheries scientist for the Suquamish Tribe and is involved with the estuary’s restoration efforts.

If the restoration project doesn’t begin in June, it will take place in September or October depending on how quickly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers OKs the permits, Callaghan said.

Although the project still has to go to bid this April, Callaghan said he believes funding for the project is in the bag.

The project’s funding comes from $415,000 given to Kitsap County Parks from the Suquamish Tribe. In 2003, the Suquamish Tribe received a $1.1 million settlement from Foss Maritime after 4,700 gallons spilled from one of their vessels into Puget Sound and circulated to the shores of Indianola.

As part of the agreement between the Suquamish Tribe and Kitsap County Parks, the $415,000 had to go toward local restoration efforts.

The Suquamish Tribe and Mid-Puget Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group (MPSFEG) also worked together to attain a $55,000 grant with a $10,000 match requirement from the Salmon Funding Recovery Board, said Troy Fields, executive director of MPSFEG. This footed the bill for the design and permitting portions of the culvert project.

Callaghan estimates the project cost to be about $385,000. He said the extra $30,000 from the settlement is on the back burner for contingency and any unforeseen costs. Any unused funding will go toward replanting any local vegetation indigenous to the estuary site.

During the culvert construction Callaghan said Indianola residents should be aware of two issues.

First, Indianola residents are sure to see traffic congestion during construction, Callaghan said. However, a 12-foot-wide, one-lane temporary road bridge will be built for traffic to bypass construction.

Second, there might be an initial interruption in the function of utilities including water, electricity and cable.

“It shouldn’t be longer than one hour,” Callaghan said. “We will notify and coordinate with residents to plan for it.”

In part of the estuary restoration project, they hope to take 2,000 cubic yards of silt and dirt build up from the estuary.

Concern was raised at an Indianola community public meeting on March 12 that the estuary bed might not be stable enough to withstand extreme tides and silt would continue to wash out.

Callaghan assured community members the estuary bed will not move at extreme tidal velocities measured at a half-foot per second.

Tidal water only enters the estuary between a +5 tide to an extreme +12 tide. Callaghan said the culvert roadway will be able to withstand the highest possible tide.

Indianola residents present at the meeting said they look forward to seeing new life in the estuary.

“The current culvert doesn’t allow nutrients or fish species in the estuary,” Callaghan said. “We want to restore it back to its original state as much as we can because Mother Nature knew best.”

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