MARROWSTONE ISLAND — Residents of Marrowstone Island sounded the alarm about the causeway and surrounding ecosystem in 1975.
The salt marsh that connects Naval Magazine Indian Island with Marrowstone Island is a significant passage for migratory salmon and sediment that exchanges with the tides from Oak Bay to Kilisut Harbor, said Kevin Long, the senior project manager for the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.
The year-long construction project to remove the causeway and construct a 440-foot concrete-girder bridge will restore the estuary and remove shoreline sediment up to 12 feet deep, putting the site where 200 observers stood during a groundbreaking ceremony at Isthmus Beach on Monday back under the water.
Construction on the $15 million project began Aug. 5 and is expected to last until next fall.
“It would not have been possible in a less-supportive community,” Long said.
As diesel engines clanked away in the background, stakeholders from the salmon coalition to three area tribes, plus project funders — including the state Recreation and Conservation office, the state Department of Transportation and political delegations from Olympia to Washington, D.C. — tossed dirt into the air following a 90-minute presentation that focused on community spirit and gratitude.
Rebecca Benjamin, the executive director of the salmon coalition, said her organization first started applying for grants to restore the harbor in 2011.
“We had no idea where this project was going to end up,” she said.
The salmon coalition led the effort, successfully securing a $7.2 million grant from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration program and a $2.4 million grant from the Estuary and Salmon Restoration program, both sources from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board through the state.
Transporation provided $2 million, and the U.S. Navy, National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant program and the NOAA Restoration Center grant through the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe each contributed $1 million, according to the Puget Sound Partnership.
The total grant sources, including fish monitoring outside of the construction project, is more than $15.2 million, the Puget Sound Partnership reported.
Benjamin, who stood at a podium underneath a canopy on the beach, said she thought 50 people might show up but teared up when several shuttles brought four times that many from L.B. Good Memorial County Park that served as a meet-up location.
“It’s a highly impactful project, that that’s why you’re all here,” Benjamin said.
“There’s $15 million invested in state and federal funds to get this project off the ground, and I hope that’s enough because that’s all I have,” she joked.
Benjamin talked about three landowners who provided construction easements on their property despite “having a year-long construction project in their backyard,” and the backing of many island residents.
“I’ve been working on restoration projects since the late 1990s, and I’ve never seen the scales tip on the side of support like this,” she said.
The causeway has been blocked with sediment since about 1938, Benjamin said.
John Wynands, the Olympic Regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation, said the project is part of a statewide mission to restore fish migration impeded by state highways.
The causeway is part of state Highway 116.
Commander Don Emerson, the commanding officer of Naval Magazine Indian Island, called it one of the largest restoration efforts in the Puget Sound that will “mutually benefit the community and the Navy.”
In addition to comments from state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend (District 24) and state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, called it a “progress day.”
“It’s amazing what can happen when all our oars are in the water, rowing in the same direction,” said Kilmer who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
“I love that this is a project to which you are saying, ‘Yes, in my backyard.’ ”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].