Restoration balances fish access with neighbor concerns

While it will still be a few years before any restoration work begins in Barnaby Slough, the Skagit River System Cooperative is alleviating neighbors’ concerns about the project’s potential impacts.

Some landowners in the Martin Road area of eastern Skagit County were initially critical of a proposal to reconnect the Skagit River with Barnaby Slough, fearing the restoration would flood their properties. SRSC hired a professional facilitator and has spent the past year meeting with stakeholders and revising the project goals to include community interests.

“We’re taking a step back and looking at existing conditions,” said Devin Smith, project manager for SRSC, the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes. “We’re not at the point where we’re going to decide on the alternatives. First we have to make sure everyone approves of the tools.”

SRSC has recently hired consultants from Natural Systems Design (NSD) to improve hydraulic modeling and evaluate existing sediment transport, flooding and channel migration risks. A separate technical review is being conducted by an independent technical advisory committee consisting of Northwest Hydraulic Consultants and representatives from WSDOT and the National Park Service.

After a meeting in January, one of the concerned residents, Dave Hallock, posted positive feedback to his website, Skagit Upriver Neighbors.

“The NSD representatives shared examples of similar work they’ve done elsewhere and I was impressed by the evident creativity of their efforts to accomplish improved fish habitat while doing nothing to put area homes and properties at risk,” Hallock wrote. “This is an ethical standpoint that I value very much – dedication to providing specific professional science services in support of focused projects while also respecting the potentially conflicted rights and values of people living and working in the project area.”

A field trip for stakeholders is planned for April.

“The project team feels like we’ve crossed a milestone of trust with the community,” Smith said.

The Barnaby reach extends from Illabot Creek downstream to the Sauk River near Rockport. The project area includes 300 acres of aquatic habitat, where 11 known barriers block fish access to nearly 80 acres, plus a mile of tributary streams.

“There is tremendous opportunity for restoration in the Barnaby floodplain and we want to develop a project that has substantial increases in fish habitat and also benefits the community,” Smith said.

The property houses the obsolete infrastructure of a defunct hatchery, and is owned by The Nature Conservancy, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Seattle City Light. These organizations are participating in a project steering committee that makes decisions about the project.

Visit the Barnaby Project website.