Chico Creek projects set to be a boon for migrating salmon

Projects along Chico Creek will seek to widen passages for migrating fish

The Washington State Department of Transportation is in the preliminary stages of building a 400-foot-long bridge over Chico Creek along State Route 3, in an effort to free up more space for fish streams.

Currently, two eight-foot concrete culverts are in place at Chico Creek under the highway, making it difficult for fish — in particular, salmon — to make the passage to spawn. The state is currently under a court mandate to correct many of these culverts in Washington, according to Chris Waldbillig, a marine biologist with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The early stages of the project have already begun, said WSDOT spokesman Doug Adamson. WSDOT plans to request proposals in November for a contractor to design the bridge, but perhaps the most demanding portion of this complicated project will be sourcing funding. Adamson said the estimated cost for the project stands at $55 million but he also acknowledged that unforeseen costs could arise as well.

“This is part of WSDOT’s extensive fish passage barrier removal efforts,” Adamson said. “This project is major and will compliment previous work from Kitsap County.”

Tons of fill dirt must be removed from the area before construction of the bridge occurs and new on-and-off ramps must be built, all of which must occur without disrupting traffic on State Route 3, said WSDOT officials.

“Our state highways are open around the clock, we recognize people need to go to work and school,” Adamson said. “We work wherever possible to limit delays for any user of the roadway.”

Chico Creek is the largest producer of salmon in Kitsap County and removing these culverts will make the creek thrive at full capacity, according to Waldbillig.

“What we are trying to do is restore a process,” he said. “Right now, erosion is happening in the watershed; carrying gravel and depositing it into the estuary.”

Waldbillig also addressed the potential environmental impact posed by the bridge.

“Part of the problem with the two culverts is they change the channel alignment; it comes down and runs parallel with Highway 3,” he said. “The bridge allows fish to come when they want and they don’t have to wait for the right timing.”

The Chico Creek bridge project isn’t the only undertaking along Chico Creek that would seek to improve fish habitat. Another culvert running beneath Golf Club Hill Road, has been considered the worst hindrance to fish migration in Kitsap County, according to county officials.

Kitsap County Public Works and the Suquamish Tribe are participating in a $4.4 million project that aims to replace the 36-foot culvert with a 140-foot bridge, in order to free up habitat for spawning salmon. Kitsap County didn’t have funding for a stable solution until recently when a $3.4 million grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office was awarded to the project.

Traffic delays on Golf Club Hill Road are expected once work begins. A temporary access road will be created south of the culvert with one lane of alternating traffic, according to KCPW. The contractor’s agreement is expected to go before the county commissioners for approval on April 22.

—Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at thsuey@soundpublishing.com

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