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73 state-owned culverts in Kitsap may have to go

POULSBO — As many as 73 state-owned culverts in Kitsap County may need to be replaced, after U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez’s ruling March 29.

Specifically, Martinez ruled the state must fix culverts under state-owned roads if those culverts block fish passage, because they violate Tribal treaty rights. Martinez gave the state 17 years to “[correct] the barrier culverts.”

Tribes reserved the right to harvest salmon in treaties with the United States government more than 150 years ago. That right was upheld in U.S. v. Washington, the 1974 ruling that recognized Tribes’ right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to state waters. The ruling established Tribes as co-managers of the resource with the state.

The March 29 order was necessary, Martinez ruled, because the state has reduced repair efforts in the past three years, resulting in a net increase of culverts that block fish from habitat. At the current rate, repairs would never be completed, he ruled, because more culverts were becoming barriers to salmon than were being fixed.

Lars Erickson, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Wednesday the ruling could affect 817 culverts statewide, 73 of them in Kitsap County.

He said he didn’t know if all state culverts in Kitsap County would need to be replaced.

He said culvert replacement would cost about $1.9 billion, “but those are 2012 numbers that don’t account for inflation, don’t account for additional failing culverts that haven’t been identified yet, don’t include the cost to correct barriers outside the case area, or the capacity for resource agencies to support our work.”

Dr. Chris May, director of Kitsap County’s surface and stormwater management program, said the county has been working on replacing fish-blocking culverts since the mid-1990s, averaging two or three culverts a year. The county has identified approximately 40 culverts that must be replaced. Culverts are scheduled to be replaced this year and next year on Chico Creek, Clear Creek, Dickerson Creek and Seabeck Creek.

He said replacing a culvert — design, permitting, construction — can cost more than $500,000.

“The list never goes away,” he said. “As we replace culverts, we sometimes find others.”

 

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