Summer of traffic goes swimmingly for salmon

POULSBO — An aerial photo of Lindvig Way taken in the late 1960s shows the broad, clear channel of Dogfish Creek flowing under a bridge and meeting in a healthy estuary with the headwaters of Liberty Bay.

In a more recent photo, that same channel is muddy, stockpiled with sediment that can’t flush out through a 6.5-foot wide culvert. The stream bed is choked with growth. Salmon become easy targets to predators as they pile up in the shallow bay struggling to make it up stream to mate.

This, say experts, is why Poulsbo needs to again have a bridge across Lindvig.

“In a nutshell the old photo shows salt water was able to move really freely under the bridge,” explained Paul Dorn, Suquamish Tribe Salmon Recovery Coordinator. “Whereas today, we have 10 acres of estuary habitat that has become a biological desert.”

The bridge project has received its fair share of cheers and jeers since it started May 14. The construction spans from around the intersection of Bond Road and Lindvig Way to just before the intersection of Viking Avenue and Lindvig. It will replace the current 6.5-foot wide culvert connecting Dogfish Creek to Liberty Bay with an 88-foot long, 65-foot wide bridge. A bridge was located in that spot from 1932 until about 1969.

The first 14 weeks of the project have the four-lane road restricted to two lanes, one in each direction, as the road surface that will become the top of the bridge is built. Construction has caused delays for traffic and anxiety for local businesses but City Engineer John Stephenson said he hopes people will recognize the broader need for the bridge.

“This is going to be inconvenience and sacrifice but this was a decision when we decided to save the salmon,” Stephenson commented.

“The city did not have to do this project, it’s not for traffic, it’s for the benefit of salmon,” added Dorn.

Environmentally-minded groups have thus far heartily supported Poulsbo’s bid to replace the culvert. The $1.7 million total price tag for the project is actually paid for through a $1.4 million Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant and a $300,000 culvert replacement grant from the State Department of Transportation.

“So basically, we’re getting this new bridge for free,” Stephenson said. “The city’s contribution is the effort and the staff time and the same goes for the tribe.”

Once the first 14 weeks of closures are completed, the contractor will have a 45-day window in July and August during which crews can work in the water to physically replace the culvert. Fill material will be removed and set aside for use in future projects and the channel will be widened and filled with material that will help it retain its new shape.

Engineers said the project recognizes the importance of natural processes and will let Mother Nature filter the more than 30 years of silt and build up out of the area. During July and August, residents may notice silt plumes in Liberty Bay from time to time that are a result of the project.

Dorn said while there will be an immediate benefit to the health of Dogfish Creek, the total recovery will likely take years to happen. But in the meantime, Dorn said one of his favorite features of the new bridge is pedestrian trails that will be built underneath the span that will connect Fish Park to Nelson Park and beyond.

“With the city’s purchase of Fish Park, people can come down there and see recovery in action,” Dorn said. “The Chinook salmon return in August and folks will be able to view salmon under the bridge.”

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