POULSBO — The north fork of Dogfish Creek presumably looked like this historically, flowing freely through this ravine, draining wetlands to the northeast and carrying it to Liberty Bay.
Historically, there were beaver in those wetlands and the area was rearing habitat “for a lot of fish” as well as habitat for migratory waterfowl, according to Paul Dorn, a biologist for the Suquamish Tribe.
The bucolic stream flexed its muscle Dec. 20. Swollen because of rain and, presumably, a blocked culvert, the creek swept away the culvert and road entrance that was a link to Bond Road for five rural homes. Stand at the edge of the road and look down; the creek bed is about 20 feet below.
The washout is forcing residents to use a neighbor’s property to get to and from their homes via Ladybug Place, a private road. The Poulsbo Fire Department has worked out an agreement with the neighbor for emergency access. Without that access, the residents of this tucked away neighborhood are landlocked.
Meanwhile, residents are trying to determine what to do next. Whatever they decide will take some effort and will be costly. Cheryl Gerber, who’s lived most of her 47 years on the property, said the solution will be paid for by the four property owners because it’s a private road.
“It’s all going to be out of pocket, and it’s going to be in the tens of thousands for each of us,” she said. “There are only two options — a culvert or a bridge, and a bridge is the more expensive option.” As of Jan. 11, she didn’t have a cost estimate on a new culvert. “I’m still waiting [to hear] back from contractors,” she said.
Because the washed-out road was private, Kitsap County has no responsibility for the cost. Gerber said she hopes the state Department of Transportation might share some of the cost, because further erosion could take a chunk out of Bond Road, also known as State Route 307. The ravine has widened from 20 to 30 feet since Dec. 20, she said. “The erosion is going to encroach on Bond Road at some point.”
Jeff Sawyer of the state Transportation Department said his agency would make repairs needed to preserve the highway. That could mean installing rock and vegetation to stabilize the creek bank. It would not mean installing a culvert and backfilling to recreate the private road. Gerber has also wondered if the Suquamish Tribe might help, because Dogfish Creek is a salmon-bearing stream.
Dorn has been to the site. “Our priorities are public roads,” he said of culverts that the Tribe has replaced. “This is an important culvert, but we have so many culverts on the list that we are working our way down.”
Steve Heacock, a planner in Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development, said he and state Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist Gina Piazza visited the site Dec. 27 “and determined that a repair using a bridge was the most practicable.”
Heacock said he connected the Kitsap Conservation District with residents for potential assistance. He said the district is exploring grant funding “which may help pay for the bridge and stream restoration needed there.”
Then, there’s the permit process. Installing a culvert or bridge will require permit review by the environmental programs division of Kitsap County Department of Community Development, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Suquamish Tribe. For now, Gerber appreciates her neighbors’ allowing their property to be used for access. “We still have to four-wheel drive up and over and through the woods, but it’s the only way we can get out,” she said.
One worry — access for fire protection and medical emergencies — was alleviated Jan. 10.
Bruce Peterson, deputy chief of the Poulsbo Fire Department, said Jan. 10 he’d visited the site and talked to the neighboring property owner and identified a way to drive an ambulance to and from the landlocked properties. “I think we might be able to get a fire engine in there. It would be tight maneuvering,” he said.
‘About 100 years old’Gerber estimates someone placed the 18-inch concrete culvert and backfilled over it to create a crossing over Dogfish Creek about 100 years ago. The time period is based on visits she’s had with older people who lived on the property as children, long before her family moved there. Although the four property owners have Bond Road addresses, the washed-out road is unofficially known as Sundberg Road, after an early family that farmed on the property.
There have been signs that the 18-inch culvert was insufficient to ensure unimpeded water flow. Gerber said snowmelt “filled up the entire ravine” in 2007 and caused flooding. “We’ve had portions of the road wash out before, but nothing to that extent,” she said. “This is not a truckload-of-gravel fix.”
Gerber said maintaining the culvert was her responsibility. “I kept it cleared as best I could,” she said.
Dorn said the washout sent “a lot of sediment, a pulse of fine material” downstream that most certainly suffocated eggs left by spawning salmon and steelhead. Gravel in which salmon spawn “has been replaced by a fine layer of sand” that built up behind the culvert, he said. Dorn said a bridge “is the way to go.”
“Everything has a finite lifetime. You get these storm events, just because something has been around long time, doesn’t mean it’s [not vulnerable,” Dorn said of culverts. “What worked in the past is not necessarily going to work in the future.”
Regarding salmon and the environment, Dorn said, “The concerns we have are the same to all of us, whether Tribal or not. We all live here because we love the environment. You want to minimize your impact on the environment. The threat to salmon that spawn in that stream is pretty real.”