After eight years of research, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources informed stakeholders and neighbors in February of its final plan to return Whiteman Cove to a functioning estuary in order to comply with a 2013 federal injunction mandating state restoration of salmon habitat.
Located on the southwest coast of the Key Peninsula immediately south of Joemma Beach State Park, the cove provides sheltered waterfront access to numerous private homes and YMCA Camp Colman.
The DNR plan includes opening an 80-foot section in the berm, allowing changing tides to fill and drain the cove twice a day.
DNR will also construct a 100-foot long single-span bridge over the gap, at an estimated cost of $1.9 million, to preserve public access to Camp Colman.
“We are trying to make this as amenable as possible to the YMCA and to the Whiteman Cove residents, so we are pursuing the bridge option, which would bridge the gap we create when we open the estuary,” said David Palazzi, DNR Aquatics Land Planning and Stewardship Section Manager, in an interview with KP News.
The decision did not sit well with the YMCA of Greater Seattle, which owns and operates Camp Colman, established in 1966.
“The Camp Colman experience is now in danger of being destroyed by the DNR proposal to breach the berm surrounding the lagoon to provide fish passage,” Seattle YMCA Senior Executive of Camping and Outdoor Leadership Meredith Cambre said in a YouTube video, one of several on the subject linked to its website.
“The resulting mud flat eliminates all water-based programing and activities in the protected environment the cove provides,” Cambre said.
Originally identified in 2013 by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, DNR considers Whiteman Cove one of the top restoration opportunities in South Sound.
DNR anticipates the project would cause significant changes to the Whiteman Cove environment: higher water to occur only during king tide and other extreme events; lower water levels most of the time; at minimum level 30% of the time; water commonly below existing docks; increased habitat quality and complexity; improved water quality; and potential short-term impacts to aquaculture.
DNR presented multiple restoration options in meetings with stakeholders in January 2019, including the Seattle YMCA, Whiteman Cove Homeowners Association, the Squaxin Island Tribe, Seattle Shellfish Partners, Joemma Beach State Park and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.
Palazzi told the stakeholders that all four options in the Whiteman Cove Feasibility Study were evaluated. The gap-and-bridge option was chosen as the most feasible and likely to comply with a 2013 federal court injunction requiring the state to replace or repair any culvert on state land impeding fish passage. The restoration project is slated for completion in 2023.
The Seattle YMCA is lobbying legislators in Olympia to exclude the restoration project from the 2021-22 state capital budget, stating in “a call to action” on its website:
“Whiteman Cove is not a culvert and not part of the federal injunction that the DNR is required to comply with,” adding that the DNR also failed to include “viable options that support both enhanced fish passage as well as preservation of critical environmental education, water safety and recreational programs of Camp Colman.”
Anchor QEA is consultant to DNR on the Whiteman Cove Restoration. At the request of the Seattle YMCA, Anchor QEA also worked with Kleinschmidt R2, consultants hired by Seattle YMCA, to evaluate a new “fish friendly” tide gate option. It was determined that its tide gate-culvert and weir option cannot be engineered to meet the requirements of the injunction or be eligible for the needed hydrological permit.
Palazzi told KP News he understands that competing interests ensure the estuary restoration option won’t please everyone but, “We don’t get to see things like this very often, so we’re looking forward to a successful recovery that supports critical habitat for salmon recovery and ultimately the Southern Resident Orca as well.”
The YMCA of Greater Seattle did not respond to multiple requests for comment by KP News.
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