Puget Sound-area Indian tribes in 2001 took the state to court over culverts and their effect on salmon runs. In 2007, Martinez ordered the state and tribes to agree on a schedule to replace culverts, but they were unable to do so.
In his latest ruling, March 29, Martinez gave the state 17 years — until 2030 — to replace its culverts.
Tulalip tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr., in a written statement, applauded the judge’s decision.
“We hope for the day it will be a commonly held notion that to protect our salmon resource does not negate economic opportunity and growth; it is our challenge, together, to find creative and innovative ways to have both,” he said.
The state has replaced or removed 22 culverts in Western Washington since 2010, said Lars Erickson, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. Changing out a culvert usually involves rebuilding it to make it much wider to allow the water to flow as it might with no culvert. In some cases, the culvert is simply removed and the stream reopened to daylight.
Adopt A Stream’s 2005 survey studied culverts in streams flowing to Lake Washington from Snohomish County, as well as Quilceda and Allen Creeks between Marysville and Arlington.
Of 678 culverts in those watersheds, 391 were barriers to fish migration, Murdoch said — about 58 percent.
Of those, 191 were on private property, 99 were owned by Snohomish County and 45 were owned by King County, he said. Of the remaining 56, the state owned 17 and Marysville, Lake Forest Park and the Tulalip Tribes owned the rest.
“The Tulalip Tribes were amazing and removed the barriers on their property as soon as they were made aware that the problems existed,” according to Murdoch.
The Get Whatcom Planning blog also reported on the culvert ruling:
In a nutshell, the court found that the depletion of salmon stocks has harmed Washington’s tribes, including the Lummi Indian Nation and the Nooksack Tribe, both of which are parties to the case. It also found that salmon habitat has been degraded by blocked culverts, and requires the state to fix barrier culverts under transportation projects.The case is based on language in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, in which the Tribes were promised that “[t]he right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians, in common with all citizens of the Territory.” As the decision notes, “Governor Stevens assured the Tribes that even after they ceded huge quantities of land, they would still be able to feed themselves and their families forever.” (U.S. v. State of Washington at 2 of 35.)