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Creek project spawns ripple effect
The sight of bulldozers, trenches and bridge construction near a creek is not usually associated with a vibrant increase in the area's wildlife population.
But the Spring Valley Restoration Project is not a typical enterprise.
The 1,400 feet of Hylebos Creek where the project is under way will be the site of a peaceful, winding, vibrant creek and wetlands area. The project is a joint endeavor by the Washington State Department of Transportation, the City of Federal Way and the Friends of the Hylebos, a nonprofit conservation organization in the city.
In 2005, Friends of the Hylebos jumped at the opportunity to buy the 27-acre Spring Valley Ranch site, located at the outwash of the east Hylebos Creek ravine, and restore the land to its natural state, said Chris Carrel, Friends of the Hylebos executive director.
"It became the top priority for Friends of the Hylebos," he said.
However, the Friends could not afford to complete the restoration on its own. The state Department of Transportation bought the property from the Friends with plans to transform the area back to its wetlands state.
Federal Way became involved in the project mainly due to its interest in eliminating flooding on South 373rd Street, which results from the creek's current location and the amount of gravel that accumulates where the creek passes under South 373rd Street, surface water manager Paul Bucich said.
"The city has been trying for a very long time to get that corridor restored," he said.
The project will be challenging, but its rewards will be threefold.
When finished, the creek will allow for more salmon spawning and wildlife habitats, Carrel said. It will eliminate flooding on South 373rd Street, Bucich said. It will also serve to mitigate any wetlands areas affected by WSDOT projects, such as the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program, Mueller said.
When finished, the site will appear natural. All manmade structures put in place will be removed, including a few footbridges, one vehicle bridge and a pond, Mueller said.
Much of the wetlands had been filled in by the property's former owners, so that must be cleared too, Bucich added.
In relocating the creek about 400 feet from its natural path, the previous owners straightened it. The creek will be returned to its original channel, Carrel said.
"We're taking an artificially located and straightened creek and putting it back where it should be," Carrel said.
Looking at the project in its current condition, it may be hard to imagine how everything will come together.
Increasing spawning grounds: The bridge at the northeast section of the property, as well as the fish ladder at the south end, have both been removed. While restoration is under way, nets one upstream and one downstream where the new creek channel will tie in with the old channel have been placed to keep the fish away from the area in which creek excavation will occur, Carrel said. These nets will be put in place by biologists and will only be used when work is being performed in the creek, Mueller said. When the project is complete, the creek will provide ample spawning ground for chinook salmon, Carrel said.
"In terms of remaining spawning sites on the creek, this is the crown jewel," Carrel said.
One Fish and Wildlife biologist told the Friends of the Hylebos that the restoration project could lead to a 70 percent productivity rate for the chinook salmon in the creek, Carrel said.
Decreasing flooding: Access roads are being built for the excavation of the new channel. Grading and digging of the new creek channel have begun, Mueller said. Restoration will allow for curves in the creek's flow. These features slow water velocity and help control flooding, Carrel said.
The creek currently passes under South 373rd Street, where it used to flood annually, Bucich said. Although only about 2 inches of water covered the roadway, the flood area extended more than 100 feet, making driving through the massive puddle slightly uncomfortable for drivers, he said.
The current bridge will remain in place because some ground flow and run-off will still exist in that area, Mueller said. However, another bridge will be constructed where the creek will pass under South 373rd Street in the future, she said.
The road in this area is now closed. A 45- to 50-foot hole exists where the new bridge will go, Bucich said. South 373rd Street is expected to open again by Sept. 3 (Labor Day), he said.
The new bridge and creek channel mean Federal Way residents' tax dollars will not be used to restore water damage (which could have resulted from the flooding) to the structure and integrity of South 373rd Street, Bucich said.
"It's going to save everybody money because it will protect and preserve the road," he said.
So far the project is on schedule, Mueller said.
Once the creek has been moved and vegetation has been planted, the area should be monitored for at least five years, Carrel said. Someone will need to make sure the creek is not trying to overstep its boundaries and native vegetation is not being smothered by invasive plant species, he said.
This work is likely to be completed by WSDOT, Mueller said.
Contact Jacinda Howard: firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 925-5565.
To follow progress on this project, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/PierceCountyHOV/I5_PortTacomatoKing/SpringValleyRestoration.htm.