Gov. Chris Gregoire today, joined by Martha Kongsgard, chair of the Puget Sound Leadership Council , Bill Ruckelshaus, former chair of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, and Col. Tony Wright, the new executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, toured a number of Puget Sound projects to restore and improve the health of the Puget Sound.
"Not only is the Puget Sound a treasure that I want to make sure my grandchildren and their children enjoy, it's critical to Washington state's economic success," Gregoire said. "The Puget Sound helps drive $20 billion of economic activity in our state -- including tourism, fishing and international trade. It's the source of tens of thousands of jobs for Washingtonians. We have no choice but to protect and restore this incredible resource. Today's tour proves that the Puget Sound Partnership, together with its partners, is making solid progress. But I also know that this is just a start. Our work needs to continue."
When Gregoire created the Puget Sound Partnership in 2007, she called for a "swimmable, fishable, diggable" Puget Sound by 2020. The projects toured today are aimed at meeting that goal.
Gregoire started her morning in Hood Canal, where the Navy hosted a tour of projects that may be completed with help from a new "in lieu fee" mitigation program. This first-of-its-kind in the country mitigation alternative for the Hood Canal watershed will initially be used to offset the impacts of construction of the Navy's new explosives handling wharf. It will, however, have broader impacts within Hood Canal and Puget Sound for meeting county, state and federal requirements for offsetting development.
The partnership worked with the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, tribal governments and federal agencies to secure the agreement. While construction affected almost a half-acre of nearshore habitat, it could restore a significantly larger area and serve as an innovative model for future construction projects. Instead of trying to mitigate development projects one by one, the in lieu fee program allows someone who needs to build a dock or bridge to pay into a new fund and be quickly issued a permit. The millions of dollars flowing into the fund from the Navy can then be used to finance science-based priorities, spur implementation of salmon restoration plans and hold the region accountable for results.
Gregoire then traveled to Samish Bay, where work is under way to ensure clean water for shellfish beds. Washington's aquaculture industry -- farmed clams, mussels and oysters -- is worth more than $107 million annually. The industry employs more than 3,200 people and pumps more than $270 million each year into the state economy.
Last year, the state Department of Health had to close shellfish beds in the Samish Bay due to high levels of fecal coliform which put the shellfish industry at risk. Gregoire called on the Puget Sound Partnership to lead efforts to restore Samish Bay and ensure this critical industry thrives, as part of the governor's broader Washington Shellfish Initiative.
The partnership has worked with landowners, livestock producers, shellfish growers, homeowners, local government and state agencies to control the pollution sources periodically closing the shellfish beds in the Bay. The dairy and cattle folks have fenced their cows out of streams, homeowners with failing septic tanks have made repairs and landowners have planted vegetation along the banks. In the past two years, average fecal coliform readings have dropped tenfold. Areas with remaining pollution have been targeted for final cleanup.
While in the Samish area, Gregoire put on her knee boots and joined a beach walk at Taylor Shellfish, where she harvested clams and oysters. She then met with key players involved in the Clean Samish Initiative, including local elected officials, tribal members, local farmers and shellfish growers, who updated her on restoration activities.
Gregoire ended her tour in Burien, where she visited a cluster of eight rain gardens built to prevent polluted runoff from entering nearby beaches, keeping the water clean for both swimmers and fish. Gregoire also toured a restored Seahurst Park, the largest shoreline armoring removal project in Puget Sound. The bulkhead was removed to restore salmon habitat and improve swimming access. Together with its local and federal partners, the partnership has worked to remove 1,400 feet of bulkhead along the Puget Sound so far, and has slated another 1,800 feet for future removal.