The Port of Seattle has approved spending $300,000 to study a proposal to create an artificial salmon stream that would wind from its Elliott Bay terminal inland to a spawning bed between the city’s Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods.
The 4,200-foot-long waterway would take inbound salmon past deep-water docks and under the Magnolia Bridge to a hatchery and visitor center.
The concept is being promoted by the conservation group Long Live the Kings, which has helped restore several faltering salmon runs in Western Washington. The group hopes to create an urban classroom for lessons about salmon - and start a new salmon run to help boost threatened species.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” says Barbara Cairns, project director for the group.
It’s also a little bizarre.
“I can’t imagine a salmon stream in downtown Seattle, frankly,” said Paul Hage, harvest management biologist for the Muckleshoot Tribe.
But “if it puts more fish out, the tribe would probably support it.”
Port commissioners agreed last week to spend as much as $300,000 on feasibility and environmental studies, with matching funds from Long Live the Kings. Approval came on a 3-2 vote.
Staff at the state departments of Fish and Wildlife and Ecology say the plan could work.
“In general, it sounds like a good idea,” said Kathy Hopper, manager of state hatcheries in the north Puget Sound.
But there are problems.
Backers need enough clean water to fill a stream - perhaps from a well. The waterway must be protected from the eroding Magnolia hillside. It cannot interfere with port operations.
And the undertaking will cost millions - Cairns estimates less than $5 million.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the University of Washington School of Fisheries are consulting with the project, she said.
Directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation, where Cairns once worked, are considering a request for $100,000. The foundation gives $60 million a year to fish and wildlife projects.
And Long Live the Kings’ board of directors is stocked with executives from such prosperous companies as Browning-Ferris Industries, Plum Creek Timber, Weyerhaeuser and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe.
The initial proposal calls for the port to provide some land while Long Live the Kings raises private funds to cover construction costs.
Supportive port commissioners left open the possibility they might also put up some cash.
The commission chairwoman, Paige Miller, considers the project a form of economic development.
Commissioners “have a responsibility to help maintain and enhance the quality of life here and … to restore a historic resource,” she said.
Commissioner Pat Davis opposes the project as “not appropriate to our mission.” She feels the project will interfere with port operations and take cash needed for other things.
“Salmon streams and visitor places may be wonderful but they don’t need to be on port property,” she said Thursday.
“I just know we’ll wind up with a whole bunch of money going down a rathole,” Davis added.