Matt Zupich, of the Whidbey Island Conservation District, walks through a marsh near Greenbank Farm after installing equipment to measure water levels. WICD is helping the landowners handle drainage problems involved with an aging tidegate. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Joint effort ponders Greenbank tide gate headache

An earth-and-cobble dike, tide gate and other infrastructure built in the early 1900s by settlers are deteriorating and aren’t providing adequate drainage at a marsh near Holmes Harbor.

The tide gate, which was probably replaced in the late 1990s, is supposed to allow freshwater from the uplands to flow out and prevent the ocean water from coming in, but both processes are not working properly.

“It’s not allowing some of the upland water to drain, but also is allowing some of the marine water to come in,” Matt Zupich, a natural resource planner with the Whidbey Island Conservation District, said.

“So that’s affecting some of the upland areas by (having) excess water.”

In addition to problems occurring because of the aging infrastructure, the tide gate was never meant to accommodate the development that has taken place on surrounding property over the years, Zupich said.

The issue occurs on land owned by the homeowner’s association, the Greenbank Beach and Boat Club, but it impacts more than just the landowners there. Part of the property borders state-owned aquatic land, the drainage area surrounding the land is owned by the Port of Coupeville and Island County owns a culvert under North Bluff Road that routes water through the tide gate.

The land also has the potential to support the county’s salmon recovery efforts, if the tidal connection is improved, according to a report on the issue. In addition to trying to solve the drainage problem, the Conservation District sees this project as an opportunity for marsh restoration, Zupich said.

The problem came to the attention of the current leaders of the Greenbank Beach and Boat Club in about 2011, and they reached out to the Conservation District for guidance. The Conservation District has worked ever since as a grant sponsor for the association and to provide technical assistance.

In 2015, the Conservation District’s in-house engineer, Tom Slocum, conducted a preliminary study of the problem. Slocum identified options for potential solutions, but the report determined more research is needed to be able to move forward and create “permit-ready” designs.

Greenbank Beach and Boat Club members selected an open channel design to replace the pipe and tide gate. This option would significantly increase the capacity to drain storm water, maintain boat ramp access and limit fish passage into the lagoon, according to the report.

The estimated price tag of the project is about $426,000. The Conservation District and Greenbank Beach and Boat Club are working to secure funding to be able to do more research and refine initial designs for the final project.

In the meantime, Greenbank Beach and Boat Club formed a working group composed of representatives from the Conservation District, other property owners affected by the drainage issue, Island County Public Works and the Port of Coupeville.

Coupeville Port Commissioner Bob Monroig suggested using part of the Greenbank Farm area to develop a nature center to educate the public about marsh restoration issues.

Monroig said this idea was suggested before.

“The port’s currently in the process of developing a new strategic plan, so the timing is pretty good to say, ‘Well what about this?’” he said. “I like to think it’s an idea that its time has come.”

The port has a conservation easement on the land, which heavily restricts new development. However, an educational center falls within an acceptable use, according to Monroig.

The organization submitted a grant application to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to fund the next phase of the project. However, the state Legislature did not pass a capital budget and thus the funds are not guaranteed. The club and conservation district are looking into other options for funding as well.

“Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be very expensive,” Zupich said.

The Greenbank Beach and Boat Club plan to hold a public meeting about the issue sometime in the fall or winter once they have more information about funding.