Backhoe comes to aid of Glendale Creek salmon

A pile of rocks, driftwood and other debris prevents salmon from making it into Glendale Creek. A county work crew cleared the debris away Tuesday morning. - Matt Johnson
A pile of rocks, driftwood and other debris prevents salmon from making it into Glendale Creek. A county work crew cleared the debris away Tuesday morning.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Back for the winter, Puget Sound salmon looking for a place to breed in Glendale Creek were having a hard time making it past the front door last week.

A pile of landscape boulders, driftwood and sand blocked the entrance to the recently rebuilt creek, leaving the salmon to find a way in through the cracks or to wait for an extreme high tide.

But with an emergency work permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in hand Tuesday morning, an Island County work crew used a backhoe to remove much of the debris and reopen a direct channel to the creek. The action increased the likelihood of the first big salmon spawn in the creek in decades.

As of even Monday night, it didn't look too good for the salmon. Although a few smaller fish made it into the creek to breed over the past week, low high tides and a low volume of water in the creek kept the entrance -- a steel grate built over a concrete groin in the bulkhead protecting Glendale -- impassible. Thor Mohn, a Glendale resident who had watched with high hopes for the fish as Island County finished restoring and daylighting Glendale Creek last year, said the blockage was a threat to the creek's salmon run.

"It's not providing access for the salmon," he said.

Until this week, Island County Public Works officials were not certain what needed to be done when. Since it is early in the salmon spawning season, county engineer Dick Snyder said last Friday the county was inclined to wait for heavy fall rains to blow some of the debris away from the mouth of the creek. He said moving the debris with a backhoe was an option if the rain failed.

It did fail, despite significant downpours over the weekend. By Tuesday morning, the backhoe was the chosen option. Matt Nash, a biologist working for Island County, said Tuesday afternoon that with coho and chum salmon "ready to go" in the waters off Glendale, it was time to give them an avenue to get into the creek, because they were not making it on their own. This week's fish count, performed by Island County, turned up only three salmon in the creek.

Removing the debris is not a permanent solution, Nash said. The groin designed into the stream restoration project is not doing the job as intended. A new design may need to be considered to allow fish unfettered access to the creek in future years.

For now, the temporary solution should keep fish and salmon enthusiasts happy. Mohn, who watched the work at the creek groin Tuesday, said he is sure the fish will start swimming up the creek as soon as they find the blockage gone.

"We finally got it done," he said.

Island County and state and federal agencies spent about $1.1 million rebuilding the creek's bed and a portion of Glendale Road that runs alongside the creek. Both were damaged in winter flooding in January 1997.

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