News

Up with Joe's Creek

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

A project to improve the quality of life for salmon in Joe's Creek moved closer to completion after the Federal Way City Council approved the latest phase in the design process and authorized staff to keep moving.

The goal is to restore 640 feet of the narrow, carved-out creek bed located along the southern boundary of Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.

As part of the project, workers will re-grade the stream channel and place logs and root-wads in the creek to serve as fish habitat. They'll also mitigate impacts to wetlands, remove 71 feet of broken storm drain and install up to 255 feet of pipe to replace a failing storm drain that runs from an underpass to the creek.

The project is costing about $1.8 million, paid for with help from King County, the city and outside funding. But officials believe the improvements are important to the region.

"In Federal Way, the environmental quality of life is better than in most urban settings," said Paul Bucich, manager of the city's surface water program. "Lots of community groups ask the city frequently what they can do. There's an active interest by folks who don't live on the creek."

Nature itself drives up the cost of the work to offset the damage caused by development, Bucich said. It's expensive to hire geotechnical engineers, hydrologists, civil engineers and fisheries biologists to conduct the sensitive technical work, including diverting the stream and creating a new place for it to run while workers repair the damaged sections.

Bucich pointed out that while some materials might not be terribly expensive –– a fish-habitat log might cost $500 –– navigating it down an embankment or into the woods and lowering it just right into the stream might cost several times the price.

"We don't bid on the materials alone," he said. "We bid on the whole process."

The process can be expensive and time-consuming because of the many agencies that oversee the areas through which water runs, including federal, state and local governments, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

A project to improve Lakota Creek has been in the works for several years. Last year, workers finished repairing the creek bed, installing logs and other woody debris, and creating sediment controls from Lakehaven Utility District's headworks, located off Dash Point Road, to Decatur High School on South 320th Street.

Concurrently, the city contracted with workers to improve the Lakota Park wetland, located at Lakota Middle School on Dash Point Road and South 312th Street, where significant rainfall floods the fields. With $194,000 from the King County Conservation Futures fund, the city bought 12 acres of property and built a 1,300-foot berm to help control the water. "The wetland will still flood, but the park won't," Bucich said.

Last month, the City Council awarded a contract to Kemper Construction for a little under $489,000 to install 490 feet of 24-inch pipe to convey stormwater from 22nd Avenue Southwest down a ravine to the east branch of Lakota Creek. A t-shaped structure slows the water before it enters the creek and keeps fish from jumping into the larger pipe. Work has begun.

As it is now, Bucich said, the existing pipe is too small to carry all the water expected during a 100-year storm, the term for a storm that has about a 1 percent likelihood of occurring in a given year. In addition, the pipe stops at the top of the ravine, releasing water over the side.

The total for this part of the Lakota Creek project is budgeted at almost $790,000. All told, the cost to improve the creek is running into the millions. In addition to the $790,000 for the east branch, work on the main branch and the west stem cost $1.06 million, and the Lakota wetland project cost $760,000.

When the city first inherited local streams, ponds, wetlands and waterways from King County, surface water officials prioritized problems like flooding, Bucich said. After fixing most of the more urgent concerns, the city decided to address quality-of-life issues, fish habitat restoration and stream health.

There's no federal mandate to conduct stream restoration work, and the process is expensive. So why do it all?

"It's a difficult question to respond to when we talk about quality of life issues," Bucich said. "It's like asking, 'What is the value of a rose garden?'"

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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