PORT ORCHARD — When environmental planners and area residents sit down at a community meeting Jan. 30 to wade through plans impacting the future of Harper Park in South Kitsap, they will have more than enough information to pour over in the two hours allocated for the session.
The meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Colby United Methodist Church, 2881 Harvey St. SE in Port Orchard, has been called by planners from Kitsap County’s Planning and Environmental Programs organization in the Department of Community Development.
Christina Kereki, an environmental planner with the county group, said those attending will learn about future plans for Harper Park, its estuary and an effort to seek state funding to construct a bridge at the location.
The Harper Estuary, a small embayment in southern Kitsap County, has a rich local history both tied to native peoples and modern development in the area, according to county planners.
“Pocket estuaries and salt marsh, like Harper Estuary, are important to the Puget Sound nearshore ecosystem and are highly productive habitats for support of fish and wildlife,” reads a summary introduction of the project provided by the county.
“Shallow protected waters fringed by salt marsh plants provide an abundant food source for fish and wildlife, including juvenile salmonid and waterfowl, and a refuge from predation. These habitats are important to the health of Puget Sound and its natural resources. The natural values of the estuary, along with Harper Park and Harper Pier, are also a focal point for local community recreation and aesthetics,” the summary continued.
But past development activities have greatly impacted the estuary, especially from road fill over the years, along with other fill material for the boat landing and development, planners said. Much of the offload was from a brick mining and manufacturing facility built in the southwest portion of the estuary in the early 1900s, when it was then a lobe of the estuary. Today, the Harper Park ballfield sits at its approximate location.
When the factory, Harper Brick and Pottery Company, closed and was abandoned in the 1940s — and its buildings were subsequently demolished — the county said much of that material was pushed into the estuary to sit alongside “clinker” bricks and spillage from barge loading. And those bricks remain visible today.
The estuary, bisected by Southeast Olympiad Drive Road, and its natural functions have been affected by the fill offloads. Two undersized culverts at Olympiad Drive and Southworth Drive also have restricted the estuary’s tidal influences.
County environmental planners said in the summary that a restoration project for Harper Estuary has been a regional priority for more than a decade. The Washington Department of Ecology agreed and selected the site in 2013 for restoration by using funding through the Natural Resource Damage funds associated with the Cleanup Settlement Account for the ASARCO smelter site in Tacoma.
Planners said the restoration project was designed to build on former habitat restoration concepts developed over the last decade and aided by stakeholder and community outreach input. The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife also has partnered with Kitsap County to gather community input; generate restoration options with stakeholders and the community; develop the plan and seek permits for a habitat restoration design, then implement a final design.
The Harper Estuary Restoration Project, as it’s known today, includes two phases. The first part of the first phase, completed in early 2017, replaced the undersized 18-inch culvert at Harper Creek on Southworth Drive with a 20-foot box culvert at the Harper Creek outlet at the head of the bay.
The second part, removal of industrial fill and start actions to restore habitat, has been delayed until additional funding is found.
A new $4.8 million project to complete the second phase has been proposed to the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office, which is being asked for a little over $3 million in funding from an RCO grant. In this phase, planners said the county would replace a section of Southeast Olympiad Drive with a 120-foot bridge and remove remaining fill and the culvert. The bridge would replace the existing 36-inch-diameter culvert at the location. There are no plans to include a central pier for the bridge; the new channel is to be naturally created, planners said.
But when and if the project gets off the ground depends on securing funding, which is being sought from the state’s estuary and salmon restoration program, and the Puget Sound Acquisition and and Restoration fund.
The design portion of the project costing $1 million has been paid for in part by the ASARCO funds received in Phase 1 and from a grant from the salmon recovery board. This project is 25th on the state’s 2019 Transportation Improvement Program list.