Fisher Slough habitat restored
By JEREMIAH O’HAGAN Staff Reporter
Work on the Big Ditch/Fisher Slough habitat restoration project wraps up this month. Here, workers from Interwest Construction, Inc., compact the last section of the new levee, built from 75,000 cubic yards of soil.
PHOTOS BY JEREMIAH OHAGAN | STANWOOD/CAMANO NEWSThe Fisher Slough/ Big Ditch project along Pioneer Highway, between Stanwood and Conway, is just about wrapped up.
“The end is near,” said Andy Conner, project manager with Interwest Construction, Inc. (ICI), the contractor in charge of the restoration.
Thursday, All Star Hydroseeding, from Stanwood, was spraying green across the slopes of the new dike, south of Fisher Slough.
By the time the grass takes root in about two weeks, the work should be finished, Conner said.
The entire $7 million project joined the interests of conservation groups, farmers, tribal communities, fisheries and Skagit County, and was funded in majority by a $5.2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Project Superintendent Holmgren walks up the dike, while All Star Hydroseeding, of Stanwood, sprays grass along a section of finished levee.The work itself has been no small feat, either.
By the time ICI got on scene, phase one had already installed three new floodgates on the west side of Pioneer Highway.
“We started (the second phase of the project) in July 2010,” Conner said. “We’ve been here two seasons.”
In that time, ICI has rerouted Big Ditch, restored part of Fisher Slough as close to its original course as possible, removed the dike on the slough’s south side and built a new, larger dike farther to the south.
“We’ve touched 120,000 cubic yards of dirt, total,” Conner said.
The result is 60 acres of flood storage — wetland that can flood and even hold water without leaking it into bordering fields.
“Before, Fisher Slough was trapped between two levees,” Conner said. “The game that was always played before was getting rid of the spring water while keeping the fish. It wasn’t ideal. By moving the south dike, we’ve allowed for the slough to flood. This is good for fish.”
The north dike also benefited. Years ago, the confluence of Hill Ditch and Little Fisher and Big Fisher creeks was re-routed to make room for fields. In the re-routing, they were joined and essentially aimed at the north dike.
“We restored them as close to their original paths as we could. In doing so, we took out some of the velocity, and they’re not aimed at the dike anymore. This levee should require very minimal maintenance, now,” Conner said.
Big Ditch has also been re-routed. It used to run from near I-5 to Pioneer Highway at a diagonal, crossing under Fisher Creek in an “X” before eventually meeting the road to the south.
Now, Big Ditch runs east-west from I-5 to Pioneer
Highway, meeting the road far to the north of its old mouth. It parallels the highway until in meets Fisher Slough. Then, once again, it ducks under the other waterway.
This feature is one of the most visible to passing motorists. On each side of Fisher Slough is a concrete box. Between them, underground and under the slough, are two 240-foot lengths of pipe, each 54 inches in diameter, through which Big Ditch runs.
On the north side, a gate can be closed, backing up Big Ditch and supplying extra water for irrigation.
“Farmers use this water to irrigate fields all the way past Conway,” Conner said.
ICI also added four new bridges across Big Ditch, so farmers can get their equipment from field to field.
“We also brought about 20,000 cubic yards of native, onsite soil into a notoriously low, water-logged field,” Conner said. “It should be a much better performer, now.”
Conner said one of the most impressive aspects of the projects has been realizing how far construction methods and equipment have come.
“When we were tearing out the old levees, we could see the layers they’d been built up in,” he said. “It’s amazing how rudimentary they started out. In one section, cedar boards had been pounded into the ground on end, like a fence, and then dirt had been shoveled up against the back side.”
“When you think about it, you realize the good construction equipment didn’t arrive until the 1940s and ‘50s,” he added. “Then you look around here and see how much we’ve been able to accomplish in only a couple years.”
Staff Reporter Jeremiah O’Hagan: 629-8066 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.