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Sequalitchew Creek & the Nisqually Reach

By Tom Skjervold

The story of the now half-century old struggle to safeguard Nisqually Reach shorelines entered a new chapter this last month when parties to a 1994 agreement sat down in a formal effort to plan for the restoration of Sequlitchew Creek. That 1994 Settlement Agreement had set aside a proposed major shipping port at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek, and began the process of safeguarding the bluffs of Puget Sound.

Sequalitchew Creek enters the Nisqually Reach just north of the Nisqually River and Red Salmon Creek. The mouth of Sequalitchew Creek was the home of the Nisqually People for millennia, and was the site of the first European (Fort Nisqually) and later the first American buildings (the "Nisqually" Mission) on Puget Sound.

It was Sequalitchew Creek with it's mile long, steep-sided canyon leading from the waters of the Salish Sea to the oak savannah 200 feet above the tidal waters, that helped Hudson Bay Company to pick that place for settlement. Maybe someday it will be a National Historic District (a nomination is pending), and perhaps a City Park there will tie to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek.

However today such visions are a long way off. Today DuPont the City considers allowing a gravel mine expansion within the City limits, with a profound potential to literally reshape the area. The plan put forward in 2007 would have taken away the marine bluffs, and replaced much of the prehistoric Sequalitchew Creek with a new custom landscape, i.e. a drainage ditch, euphemistically named "Sequalitchew Creek North."

The environmental groups that signed onto the 1994 Settlement Agreement, which in part spared Sequalitchew Creek Canyon from conversion into a highway corridor and saved the shoreline bluffs, called foul on that plan. In three years of mediated discussions, a supplemental agreement was reached and finally endorsed by all parties in January 2012 that honors the terms of the 1994 Settlement Agreement and advances some of the original conservation goals.

The 2012 Supplemental Settlement agreement reconfirms the commitment to protect bluffs. A new environmental easement will preserve the slopes to the 200' contour once and for all. Expansion of the mine into the dry gavels north of the existing mine will be allowed, pending a conservation easement on the marine bluffs, but expansion to the south, where mining will necessarily interrupt existing groundwater flow, is still up for negotiation.

A first step towards possible mining in what negotiators called the 'south parcel' is developing a plan for the restoration of Sequalitchew Creek. Defining the minimally required steps for that restoration and estimating the costs of those steps begins a new process. Later agreement will have to be reached on how much is needed, what will be paid for, and what are the full life-cycle costs.

The restoration planning process kicked off on July 18 this year, when the parties to the 1994 Settlement Agreement met with special parties to the 2012 Supplemental Agreement to begin crafting the required restoration plan. Joining the original signatories were representatives of the Nisqually Tribe, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG), and the Sequalitchew Creek Watershed Council.

Ground rules for civic engagement were approved with the help of facilitator Laura Blackmore, and Anchor Consulting provided an overview of existing conditions and challenges within the watershed. Planning documents will be available through a dropbox site that can be found at spsseg.org. Perhaps most importantly, the attendees worked on a guiding vision statement that will inform the rest of the efforts going forward.

Leading into a broad public outreach effort, that vision statement now reads:

The Sequalitchew Creek Restoration Plan will identify actions and probable project costs necessary to restore flows and ecological functions from Sequalitchew Lake through Edmond Marsh and down Sequalitchew Creek Canyon. Although the Plan will focus on the middle section of the Sequalitchew Creek from Sequalitchew Lake to the salt water marsh, the Plan will also recognize that Middle Sequalitchew Creek is part of the greater Sequalitchew Watershed, from the waters feeding American Lake to the estuarine confluence with Puget Sound.

The public will be invited to help develop the restoration plan. Meeting dates, times, and locations will be posted by SPSSEG at: spsseg.org.. The next meeting is: August 14, 2 to 4pm at DuPont City Hall.

Tom Skjervold is president of the Nisqually Delta Association. For more information about the Nisqually Delta Association, contact Tom at tskjervold@gmail.com or (360) 485-9470.

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22