UPDATE, June 11, 2014
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, wrote
a tribute to Billy Frank that is worth reading. Jeromy mentions
three admirable attributes of Billy Frank and gives examples of
each. They are words to live by.
Stand up for what you believe in … even when no one else
Treat people with respect even if you’re on opposite
It’s the big and small things that make your community a better
The affection and admiration expressed for Billy Frank Jr. has
been somewhat overwhelming in recent days. I thought it would be
nice to pull together some of the tributes — including the memorial
service — that talk about this man who was an irrepressible voice
for salmon recovery, environmental restoration and Native American
Billy, 83, a member of the Nisqually Tribe and chairman of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, died last Monday, May 5, at
his home. As I said in
Water Ways last Tuesday, I believe Billy will remain an
An estimated 6,000 people attended his memorial service Sunday
at the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Skookum Creek Event Center, located
at Little Creek Casino Resort near Shelton.
The service was recorded by Squaxin Streams and posted on the
Livestream website, which is the video player on this page.
Billy Frank’s own words, “Nobody can replace my life,” speak of
the changes from one generation to the next. Billy knew as well as
anyone that we can’t go back, but he asked people to help determine
a better environmental future. Secretary
of State Legacy Project.
Tributes, statements, news
William D. Ruckelshaus, former chairman of the Puget Sound
Partnership’s Leadership Council, of which Billy was a member.
Published in Crosscut, May 8.
Martha Kongsgaard, current chairwoman of the Puget Sound
Partnership’s Leadership Council. Published on the partnership’s
website, May 6.
To reporters in Western Washington, Billy Frank Jr. was the
essential interview when it came to reporting on fish and shellfish
Always gracious and enthusiastic, Billy would take my calls at
just about any time of day, sometimes between conferences in
Washington, D.C. He was willing to talk about anything, from
environmental problems to court rulings. You name it.
Usually, he was not the best person to discuss the rigorous
details I might need for a story. He left that to others. But one
could always count on Billy to passionately expound upon the needs
of salmon and how a particular policy or legal agreement would
further the cause.
At 83 years old, Billy had watched the rapid rise of modern
development and the sad decline of salmon populations throughout
Puget Sound. He was at the center of the battle to restore tribal
treaty rights and claim a place at the table where decisions are
made regarding natural resource policies.
It didn’t matter to Billy if you were a concerned citizen, a
U.S. senator or the president himself. He would greet people with a
hug and thank them for their efforts. During his off-the-cuff
speeches, he would urge everyone to keep working together, no
matter what conflicts needed to be overcome.
Billy, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission,
was in Kitsap County — Suquamish to be specific — 10 days ago to
meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Kitsap Sun reporter
Rachel Seymour heard him address the issue of salmon hatcheries.
Kitsap Sun, April 24 (subscription).
“Our hatcheries are under attack,” he said, saying that Puget
Sound had become “poison” to the salmon. “The hatcheries are there
because the habitats are gone. Big business says it costs too much
to have clean water.”
That was classic Billy Frank, shooting straight into the heart
of the matter.
I knew Billy on a professional level, but he had this rare trait
for making everyone feel like a friend. Of all the stories I wrote,
Billy was particularly pleased that I kept following the culvert
lawsuit years after it seemed forgotten by most people — even the
judge. In that case, the court ruled that Washington state has a
duty under the treaties to fix highway culverts that impede the
passage of salmon.
Billy appeared comfortable in most settings. He would plead and
demand, calling on people to do the right thing, his speech
peppered with occasional profanity. He was easily excited at
reports of progress, but always disappointed at the extremely slow
pace of ecosystem recovery.
His vision was to restore salmon populations to some semblance
of their glory when people could still make a living from the
bounty of nature. Without thinking, I always believed that Billy
would be around to see his vision fulfilled, no matter how long it
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership
Council, recalled hearing Billy speak last Thursday at the Salish
Sea tribal dinner.
“Billy assured us that he would be here for at least another
decade — he had so much work to do,” Martha wrote in a thoughtful
tribute to Billy. “He mentioned that his father lived to be 104 and
his mother 96 and that he hoped to split the difference. He was on
fire, naming names, calling us all to the cause, to come together.
He was as powerful as any in the room had ever heard him.”
As was his habit, Billy got up Monday and got dressed after his
shower. He sat down on his bed and didn’t get back up. His son
Willie found him a short time later.
It will be up to others to continue the fight to protect and
restore salmon to Puget Sound. We can be sure that there will never
be another Billy Frank. But those who knew him or heard him speak
can still be empowered by the indomitable passion that made him
such an unforgettable force.
A multi-million-dollar tidal energy project in Admiralty Inlet,
north of the Kitsap Peninsula, has been approved by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Snohomish County Public Utility District, which was granted
a license for the double-tidal-turbine pilot project, says it will
be the first “grid-connected array of large-scale tidal energy
turbines in the world.” The twin turbines are designed to produce
600 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power several hundred
“Anyone who has spent time on the waters of Puget Sound
understands the power inherent in the tides,” PUD General Manager
Steve Klein said in a news
release. “In granting this license, the FERC acknowledges the
vigilant efforts of the PUD and its partners to test the viability
of a new reliable source of clean energy while at the same time
ensuring the protection of the environment and existing uses.”
The federal commission acknowledged concerns for fish and
wildlife brought forth by area tribes, whale-watch operators and
environmental groups. But the pilot project has precautionary
measures built in, according to the commission’s
order (PDF 503 kb) issued yesterday:
“For these new technologies, where the environmental effects are
not well understood, the risks of adverse environmental impacts can
be minimized through monitoring and safeguard plans that ensure the
protection of the public and the environment.
“The goal of the pilot project approach is to allow developers
to test new hydrokinetic technologies, determine appropriate sites
for these technologies, and study a technology’s environmental and
other effects without compromising the commission’s oversight of a
project or limiting agency and stakeholder input…
“A pilot project should be: (1) small; (2) short term; (3)
located in non-sensitive areas based on the commission’s review of
the record; (4) removable and able to be shut down on short notice;
(5) removed, with the site restored, before the end of the license
term (unless a new license is granted); and (6) initiated by a
draft application in a form sufficient to support environmental
Among tribes that fish in the area, the Suquamish Tribe raised
concerns about the likelihood of underwater turbines violating
tribal treaty rights to fish. The turbines have the potential for
killing or injuring fish, according to the tribes, and they could
become a point of entanglement for fishing nets and anchor
“Though we respect the tribes’ perspective and concerns, we
disagree that licensing this project will adversely affect their
treaty rights,” the commission stated in its order. The license
contains no restrictions on fishing, and it requires measures to
protect the fish.
Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said tribal officials
have not had time to review the license conditions in detail but
will do so over the coming days. He said he would consult with
legal and technical advisers before laying out possible actions for
consideration by the tribal council.
Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch
Association and a board member for Orca Conservancy, said he was
disappointed that more people have not recognized the problems that
can be created by these turbines — especially in Admiralty Inlet, a
primary route for killer whales and many other species.
The turbines will create unusually loud and potentially painful
underwater noise, Harris said. This installation is being developed
at a time when researchers are coming to understand that noise can
disrupt the behavior of killer whales and other marine mammals.
The turbines themselves have open blades that can injure any
curious animal getting too close, he noted. And if the turbines
become a serious threat, someone must swim down and mechanically
stop the blades from turning, something that could take four
“I’m not against green energy,” Harris said when I talked to him
this morning. “But let’s not put blinders on. I would like to see
these turbines located in another spot. Why not Deception
Harris said it is critical for people to pay close attention to
the pilot project if it goes forward. Everyone should be prepared
to stop the experiment if it proves costly to sea life.
The order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission maintains
that conditions of approval will protect killer whales and other
“The Near Turbine Monitoring and Mitigation Plan requires
detection of fish and should provide observation of nearby killer
whales. Those observations combined with the hydrophone monitoring
required under the Marine Mammal Protection and Mitigation Plan
will allow detection and observation of killer whales if they come
near the turbines.
“The adaptive management provisions of the Marine Mammal
Protection and Mitigation Plan will also allow adjustments to
project operation if potential harm to killer whales is detected
or, in the very unlikely event, a whale is injured….
“This license also contains noise-related requirements that will
ensure the project does not have detrimental effects on killer
whale behavior. The Acoustic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan of this
license requires that if the sound level from turbine operation
exceeds 120 dB at a distance greater than 750 meters from the
turbine … the licensee shall engage the turbine brake until
modifications to turbine operations or configuration can be made to
reduce the sound level.”
According to several Internet sources, 120 dB is what someone
might hear standing near a chainsaw or jack hammer. That level is
considered close to the human threshold for pain.
In the Admiralty Inlet area, at least 13 local species are
listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species
One plant: golden paintbrush, threatened
One bird: marbled murrelet, threatened
Two marine mammals: Southern Resident killer whales,
endangered, and North Pacific humpback whale, endangered
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries
Service have concluded that none of the species would be in
jeopardy of extinction because of the pilot project.
Experts have concluded that marine mammals, including killer
whales, could be subjected to Level B harassment (behavioral
shifts) as a result of noise from the turbines. That would be in
violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act without incidental
take authorization. That means the Snohomish PUD must undergo
consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service and
possibly change its plans before moving forward.
The PUD chose Admiralty Inlet for its swift currents, easy
access and rocky seabed with little sediment or vegetation. A
cable-control building for connecting to the power grid will be
located on Whidbey Island near Fort Casey State Park. The turbines
will be located in about 150 feet of water about a half-mile from
The turbines are manufactured by OpenHydro of Dublin, Ireland.
Each turbine measures about 18 feet in diameter, with a 414-ton
According to the PUD, these turbines have been used in
ecologically sensitive areas in other parts of the world. One
location is Scotland’s Orkney Islands, which features a diverse and
productive ecosystem that is home to numerous species of fish,
dolphins, seals, porpoises, whales and migrating turtles.
The pilot project has been supported with about $13 million in
grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and Bonneville Power
Administration along with federal appropriations.
Partners in various aspects of the project include the
University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
Sound & Sea Technology and the National Renewable Energy
I was saddened to hear of the death of Larry Rutter, senior
policy assistant in the Sustainable Fisheries Division at the
National Marine Fisheries Service and a U.S. commissioner on the
Pacific Salmon Commission.
Larry, 61, was one of the folks who taught me the basics of
salmon management more than 20 years ago. He kept me informed
through some difficult negotiations over salmon harvest allocations
between the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Technically, he was very sharp. Personally, he was patient and
I am pleased that Long Live the Kings has created a Larry Rutter
Legacy Fund to carry out his wish for remembrances connected to the
Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, an effort he helped coordinate
across the border between LLTK and the Pacific Salmon Foundation in
“It was due in no small part to Larry’s influence that LLTK and
PSF were awarded a $5-million grant from the Pacific Salmon
Commission’s Southern Fund Committee in 2013 for the Salish Sea
Marine Survival Project,” said LLTK Executive Director Jacques
White in a
statement. “Without his vision and dedication, we simply would
not be where we are today.”
To donate to the Larry Rutter Legacy Fund, scroll to the bottom
of the Long
Live the Kings page on the topic.
Larry was a graduate of South Kitsap High School and the
University of Washington. He worked for the Point No Point Treaty
Council and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission before taking the
job with NMFS (NOAA Fisheries). His obituary in
The Olympian says Larry died last Thursday of pancreatic
The market for geoducks harvested in Washington state has
shifted from China to other Asian countries, primarily Hong Kong
and Vietnam, according to certificates issued by the Washington
State Department of Health.
We learned a week ago that the Chinese ban on imports from the
U.S. West Coast will continue until Chinese health authorities
better understand the U.S. system of protecting public health. See
Water Ways, Feb. 4, with links to other sources of
The ban caused exporters to find new markets. I reported these
numbers in a story published in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription):
“Health certificates issued by the Washington State Department
of Health totaled 757 in January — more than double the 373
certificates issued in January 2013, when shipments were still
going into China. These certificates are required to identify the
shellfish-growing area and ensure that a given shipment of seafood
is safe to eat.
“Of the 757 certificates issued in January, 409 designated
shipments into Hong Kong, while 243 designated shipments into
Vietnam. Other shipments were to Malaysia, 38; Thailand, 24;
Indonesia, 8; and a number of countries with smaller shipments.
Because shipments were closed off to China in January, no
certificates were issued for that country.”
Wild geoduck harvesting is a multi-million industry, bringing
significant revenues to businesses, tribes and state
Yesterday’s story, which was picked up by the Associated Press,
describes how state and tribal geoduck divers appear to be on track
to take their allocations of deep-water geoducks.
How many of these giant clams are getting into China illicitly
and by what routes has been hard to track down. I have collected
many rumors and comments on background, but I’ve been unable to
verify the most provocative stories.
A new harvest year begins in April with new allocations of
geoducks for the state and tribes. Meanwhile, the Department of
Natural Resources has scheduled a bid opening for state geoduck
tracts later this month.
It will be interesting to see how the Chinese ban on imports
from the U.S. West Coast affects the price of geoducks over the
coming year. So far, after a short closure when the ban was
imposed, prices for wild geoducks have been holding fairly stable,
according to officials involved in the market.
Business and government officials involved in the lucrative
geoduck export market got some bad news on Friday, when federal
authorities released a letter they had received from the Chinese
The letter raises many questions — at least from a Chinese
perspective — about how the U.S. regulatory system protects public
health. The message from Chinese health authorities dashes the
hopes of industry officials for a quick lifting of the Chinese ban
on shellfish imports from the U.S. West Coast.
Washington state has a proud reputation for protecting public
health when it comes to shellfish, and the letter from China does
little to dispel suspicions among those who think that China may
have ulterior motives. After all, Chinese authorities have done
nothing to limit the geographic scope of the import ban or even
limit the ban to geoducks only.
statement (PDF 114 kb) from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration concludes that the letter contains about
20 separate requests for information about testing and safety.
“We don’t not have a full understanding of the US regulatory
system including the definition of sea region and management, the
official monitoring on PSP and heavy metals and the responsibility
among the relevant government agencies, and we have not conducted
an on-site evaluation neither.”
The letter says the suspension of imports may be reduced to a
specific area after certain questions are answered. It calls on the
U.S. to develop an action plan for evaluation and outlines a review
process, including a visit by an “expert team” from China to
evaluate the geoduck inspection programs.
Officials at all levels in the U.S. say they are evaluating the
questions posed in the letter and preparing a coordinated
In an impressive new video, members of the Skokomish Watershed
Action Team tell the story of the Skokomish River, its history and
its people, and the ongoing effort to restore the watershed to a
more natural condition.
The video describes restoration projects — from the estuary,
where tide channels were reformed, to the Olympic Mountains, where
old logging roads were decommissioned to reduce sediment loading
that clogs the river channel.
“I thought it was really well done,” SWAT Chairman Mike Anderson
told me. “Some people have remarked about how well edited it is in
terms of having different voices come together to tell the story in
a single story line.”
The 14-minute video was produced with a $20,000 grant from the
Laird Norton Family Foundation, which helped get the SWAT off the
ground a decade ago, when a facilitator was hired to pull the group
The foundation’s Watershed
Stewardship Program invests in community-based restoration,
said Katie Briggs, the foundation’s managing director. In addition
to the Hood Canal region, the foundation is supporting projects in
the Upper Deschutes and Rogue rivers in Oregon.
As Katie explained in an email:
“LNFF has been interested in the collaborative work in the
Skokomish for a number of years, and we have been consistently
impressed with the way an admittedly strange group of bedfellows
has pulled together, set priorities, and moved a restoration agenda
forward in the watershed.
“We think their story is compelling, and by being able to share
that story in a concise, visual way, they could not only attract
more attention to the work they are doing in the Skokomish, but
also potentially influence and share with other communities
grappling with similar kinds of challenges.
“By helping SWAT tell their story, we’ve also gained a tool
through which we are better able to share what it is we care about
with the larger Laird Norton family and others interested in the
foundation’s approach to watershed stewardship.”
The video project was overseen by Tiffany Royal of the Northwest
Indian Fisheries Commission and a subcommittee of SWAT members.
North 40 Productions was chosen to pull together the story, shoot
new video and compile historical footage.
“It captures a lot of the collaboration and restoration,”
Anderson said, “but it doesn’t cover everything. It leaves out most
of the General Investigation and the Cushman settlement.”
The General Investigation is how the Army Corps of Engineers
refers to the studies I wrote about Sunday in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription) and in
Water Ways. The Cushman settlement involves an environmental
mitigation project on the North Fork of the Skokomish funded by the
city of Tacoma and related to relicensing of the Cushman Dam power
Alex Gouley of the Skokomish Tribe said he hopes that the video
will help tell the story of the Skokomish watershed, as with other
tribal efforts such as watershed tours, educational workshops and
classroom field trips.
Alex said he and other tribal members appreciate all the work
done by each member of the SWAT, from Forest Service employees to
the county commissioners, from Green Diamond Resource Company
(formerly Simpson Timber) to small property owners in the
“By coming together, everyone is able to make more informed
decisions about the projects they are working on,” he said.
UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a
news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists
the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was
not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated
incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for
the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the
I was pleased to announce in
today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the
corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan
will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency.
Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet
I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years,
actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the
past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming
the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.
As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last
“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking
about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning.
We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan,
and they did.”
Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so
long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how
restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the
restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.
But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents
believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged
by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the
state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for
the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look
forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the
discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.
Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check
must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the
documents, which will include a feasibility report and an
environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie
The plan includes these specific projects:
Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars
were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the
Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the
North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon
migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove
the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
Side channel reconnection: Restoring a
parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to
go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating
salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and
ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4
miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal,
could provide refuge from the raging river.
Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being
proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be
breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee
would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow
for new pools and vegetation along the river.
Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback
levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the
Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about
1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in
Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the
river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding
meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered
important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log
jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the
Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain
summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish
considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or
complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be
washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel
for better function.
Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver
Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing
habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter
the channel to improve natural functions.
It was shocking to hear that China had banned imports of clams
and oysters from most of the U.S. West Coast, This announcement
came after Chinese health inspectors reported high levels of
paralytic shellfish poison and arsenic in two shipments of geoducks
coming into that country. (KUOW
had the initial report.)
It turns out that one shipment of geoducks came from Poverty Bay
near Federal Way in Puget Sound, and the other one came from
Washington state government as well as the state’s extensive
shellfish industry pride themselves on a monitoring program
designed to ensure that PSP levels for harvested geoducks remain
well within safe limits. I frequently report PSP (“red tide”)
closures when they occur on recreational beaches — and commercial
shellfish are checked even more frequently.
The monitoring program for Washington state shellfish is
recognized worldwide for its ability to keep unsafe shellfish off
initial memo (PDF 33 KB) from the Chinese government said
inspectors had found levels of PSP at 30.2 mouse units per gram.
Mouse units? I had never heard of such a measurement, although I
know that live mice are often used in the monitoring tests. I
learned that “mouse units” was an older standard of measurement,
replaced by micrograms of toxin per 100 grams of shellfish
The use of mouse units was the first issue that threw everybody
off. I received an explanation from Jerry Borchert of the state’s
Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, and I offered this
explanation in a story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription):
“The Dec. 3 letter imposing the shellfish embargo stated that
paralytic shellfish poison was found in concentrations of 30.2
mouse-units per gram. Mouse-units are an older standard, based on
the amount of poison it takes to kill a mouse. The more common
measurement today is micrograms of toxin per 100 kilograms of
shellfish tissue, Borchert said.
“‘We need to know what conversion factors they used,’ he said.
‘Based on the best information we have, which is sketchy, the
levels were between 600 and 1,500 micrograms per 100 grams.’
“In contrast, reports on geoducks from the Poverty Bay tract
were no greater than 62 micrograms between Sept. 26 and Oct. 24,
according to a health investigation completed Friday. The most
likely harvest date was found to be Oct. 5.
“Authorities will close an area when the toxin level reaches 80.
In fact, the high toxin levels suggested by the Chinese memo might
not have been reached in geoducks found anywhere in Puget Sound
this year, Borchert said.”
Confusion over the toxin levels found by the Chinese inspectors
has created a great deal of anxiety throughout state government and
the shellfish industry in Washington state. Nobody wants to say
that the Chinese made a mistake, especially when the only data
available is a terse finding in a
memo (PDF 33 KB) transmitted to U.S. authorities. In fact,
everyone I have talked to has been careful not to say anything
negative at all until the facts are all in.
The chance that the shellfish exported to China exceeded the
international standard of 80 micrograms per 100 grams seems
possible, given that samples sent to state officials reached 62.
That could invoke a response, even though the action level of 80 is
considered within a significant margin of safety. But if the
Chinese inspectors are reporting toxin levels higher than 600, that
raises other issues.
What about poaching? I think it would be hard to rule out the
possibility that somebody illegally sold geoducks from another area
where PSP levels were higher and said they were from Poverty Bay.
Whether that could happen depends, at least in part, on how well
officials are able to track the geoducks through the market.
John Weymer of the Puyallup Tribe told me that officials were
able to track the geoducks in question back to a specific boat
working in Poverty Bay. Since it was a harvest by the Puyallup
Tribe, tribal inspectors were on hand to make sure that the
harvested geoducks were accounted for until sold to an independent
buyer, he said. There is no doubt, he added, that the geoducks sold
from the bay in October met health standards.
Although numerous areas of Puget Sound showed toxin levels above
80 micrograms in some types of shellfish, I’m told that the number
of areas that reached 600 to 1,500 in geoducks were rare, if that
happened at all. Such a finding would create more doubt about the
accuracy of the Chinese testing.
One of the things I wondered about was whether the Chinese could
be acting in retaliation for ongoing U.S. actions regarding the
safety of foods imported from China. Bans on Chinese chicken were
imposed and then lifted, amid Chinese complaints to the World Trade
Organization. Questions of food safety have become entangled in
issues of fair trade between the two countries.
I’ve raised this question of a trade battle with several people.
Most tell me that if this were a trade issue, the Chinese would
have used the opportunity to make a political statement. Instead,
the Chinese memo was limited in scope, although the financial
impact to the Washington shellfish industry could be
Some people are quietly speculating that the Chinese have taken
this action to manipulate prices. If geoduck harvesting is shut
down in Washington state, the price of wild geoducks from the U.S.
will drop and markets will improve for Canadian and Mexican
geoducks. I’m told that the Chinese can make more money operating
in those countries, although I have been unable to verify that so
UPDATE, MAY 29, 2013
State officials have decided to appeal the Martinez decision,
according to a statement from Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s
Associated Press story.)
“The state remains committed to doing more to address fish
passage barriers and will continue to do so as resources permit,”
Ferguson said in the statement. “The implications of the case,
however, stretch beyond culverts. Issues of this magnitude deserve
full and thoughtful appellate review.”
The long-, long-, long-awaited court ruling in the so-called
culvert case has finally been issued. The bottom line is that the
Washington Department of Transportation has been given 17 years to
upgrade all state culverts to accepted standards to allow fish
That’s basically what 21 Western Washington tribes asked for
when they proposed a court order three years ago. Actually, the
tribes asked for 20 years, but Judge Ricardo Martinez subtracted
the three years that they waited for a final decision in the case,
first filed in 2001. See my latest story in
Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, or review the history in an
article published in January.
How much effect this case will have on the state budget is hard
to say. The state will likely appeal, because there’s so much at
stake — including the tribes’ authority to affect how the state
spends its money. As I see it, under Martinez’ ruling, treaty
obligations are not much different than the constitutional
obligations the state has to provide “basic education.” And we all
have seen how the governor and Legislature are looking under rocks
to find money for that purpose.
One estimate of the cost of fixing all the culverts is $1.9
billion, but that’s assuming the state has a complete inventory. It
could be more. Martinez wants to see a complete inventory within
six months. People concerned about salmon will probably make sure
their least-favorite state culverts are on the list.
Through all these years, WDOT has not been ignoring the problem.
As I have reported, the state has been upgrading culverts while
doing major road repairs and also increasing the budget for
stand-alone culvert replacement.
But at the current pace, it could take between 50 and 75 years
to get all the work done, maybe more. These are just guesses
provided to me, based on the average cost of repairs, but every
culvert is different.
Near the upper end of the scale, replacement of a culvert that
carries Chico Creek under Highway 3 is estimated to cost between
$20 million and $30 million alone. The project will require several
bridges for the four-lane freeway north of Bremerton plus on- and
off- ramps in that location.
State officials are very aware of this Chico Creek culvert,
which lies at the mouth of what has been called the Kitsap
Peninsula’s most productive salmon stream. Salmon are getting
through the culvert, but it’s a struggle. The culvert is considered
a high priority by all, but replacement will probably take a
special appropriation from Congress or the Legislature, or
As I watch our state highways deteriorate, I keep thinking back
to the 1960s and early ‘70s when Washington had some of the best
roads in the country. It was a pleasure to drive back then, if my
memory isn’t faulty. Although money is needed to repair roads
today, I think a good argument can be made that salmon were here
first and should have been considered when the roads were built.
Failing that, many people consider it essential to make things
I should point out that the ruling does not immediately affect
county roads or other projects that block the passage of salmon or
affect salmon habitat. However, for better or worse, the legal
principles established by the 1974 Boldt decision and reinforced by
this culvert case could open the door to other types of
court-ordered repairs to salmon habitat.