The most important feature in any watershed, for those that have one, is its estuary. East Bay is the estuary of Moxlie Creek, one of the largest watersheds in the city of Olympia. At its lower end the stream runs through a long culvert into a body of water that’s been dredged, filled and armored with rock.
The Port of Olympia is launching a development plan for the shore of East Bay on the east side of the Port Peninsula. To the southeast will be administrative offices. Moving north will come mixed use, parking, restaurants and retail space. Buildings can be as close as 30 feet from the water’s edge. The above graphic is from the Port’s website.
The process has begun with the Destination Waterfront Vision project, part of the Port Vision 2050 plan, the result of “an 18-month process that sought input on goals for Port activities through 2050 from key stakeholders and the community at large”.
The summary begins “Port Olympia Vision 2050 – Community Input Sort (12-3-18) – At-a-Glance Version – 9,336 inputs sorted”. Questions and categorizations of responses are pigeon holed into pollution, dirty water, sea level rise, stewardship and sustainability. Not one out of 9,336 inputs favored cleanup or restoration. That’s because those options weren’t included. (1)
East Bay was placed on the 1998 303(d) impaired water list for PCBs based on samples of mussel tissue. Dioxin levels in sediments are high throughout the bay, in some locations exceeding thresholds by three orders of magnitude. These are some of the most biologically damaging chemicals known, being linked to cancer, birth defects and diabetes. Inner Budd Inlet has 95 chemical listings on Washington’s 303(d) list. (2)
An extensive sediment characterization was completed in 2008. The next step in the process was to identify the sources of contamination in Budd Inlet and control these sources, particularly those of persistent bio-accumulative forever chemicals including PCBs and dioxin. In the fifteen years since there has been no effort at source identification or control. Every priority is development driven.
Lost Ecological Function
Dredging, armoring and filling of East Bay has dramatically impacted species composition from plankton on up. The Port’s Destination Waterfront Vision plan suggests four improvements for East Bay which add up to the planting of 8000 linear feet of “functional riparian zone.” Allowed building setbacks are 30 feet from the high water mark. In marine nearshore environments where beaches are fringed with riparian vegetation, the upper intertidal wrack zone accumulates organic debris from algae. Seagrass and terrestrial plants provide food and shelter for many organisms. Armored beaches have substantially less organic matter and ecological connectivity. A narrow riparian planting will do little, especially if placed on top of a pile of rock.
Not a Random Sample
The task force includes the Port of Olympia Citizens Advisory Committee, South Thurston Economic Development Initiative (STEDI), Thurston Economic Development Council, Olympia Downtown Alliance, TRPC (elected officials from various jurisdictions) and the Thurston Chamber of Commerce. There are also representatives of schools, cities, tribes, and the public at large. Those with vested financial interests are going to be more likely to respond to and distribute questionnaires.
The Consultant Team for the Destination Waterfront Vision project contains six names. Two are from Thomas Architects, one is a Seattle architect specializing in nearshore developments, two are engineers and one is a contractor.
Even if this was a random sample, plans pertaining to this area should not be a popularity contest, they should be a science based course of action for reversing the damage we’ve done to a critical environment. Water quality in Budd Inlet could hardly get any worse and the worst water quality in Budd Inlet is in East Bay, along the eastern side of the Port Peninsula.
Federal law requires that when we have such poor conditions, restoration should at least be a component of any planning. State law, under WAC I73-26-201(2)(a) states that local governments should be prepared to identify three things: the scientific information and management recommendations on which the Master Program provisions are based; assumptions made concerning and data gaps in the scientific information; and risks to ecological functions associated with Master Program provisions through the process identified in WAC 113-26-201(3Xd)]….”when determining allowable uses and resolving use conflicts on shorelines”, local governments must apply the following preferences and priorities in the order listed below: Number one (i) Protect and restore ecological functions…”
Local restoration efforts can only be initiated at a local level. State and Federal agencies will not take the first step. Unfortunately, local jurisdictions governing Budd Inlet have no interest in restoration, which is unfortunate because restoration opportunities abound. The scale of this development along the shoreline will impede ecological function, reduce opportunities for cleanup of legacy contamination and eliminate restoration potential.
(1) Environmental concerns are addressed in several sections. When asked their first thoughts on the Port 59 people responded environmental concerns. These were divided into two categories: Pollution, Environmental Concerns, Dirty Water and Sea Level Rise (40) and Environment, Stewardship, remediation and Capitol Lake (19). When asked where the Port should focus investment, 256 responded the environment. These included environmental stewardship (171), clean water/waterway health, sustainable salmon and water habitat (62), climate change and sea level rise (13) and the preservation of natural lands (10). When asked what we would like to see in the Port’s future the responses were environment, sustainability (247), stewardship, sustainability and green practices (153), clean water (62), removal of the Capitol Lake dam (20) and sea level rise (12)
(2) Parameters listed as impaired for inner Budd Inlet are dissolved oxygen,bacteria, 2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin), anthracene, arsenic, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, chrysene, dibenzo(a,h)anthracene, indeno(l,2,3-c,d)pyrene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), bis(2-Ethylhexyl)phthalate, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoranthene, fluorene, lead, mercury, high molecular weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (HPAH), pyrene, silver, zinc, low molecular Weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (LPAH), 2-methylnaphthalene, 4-methylphenol, acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, benzoic Acid, dibenzofuran, naphthalene, phenanthrene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene,di-n-butyl phthalate, pentachlorophenol, phenol, benzofluoranthenes, total (b+k+j), butyl benzyl phthalate, di-n-octyl phthalate, and sediment bioassay. Parameters listed for outer Budd Inlet are dissolved oxygen, bacteria, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, benzo(k)fluoranthene,chrysene, polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs), 2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin), and benzoic acid. Parameters listed for inner Budd Inlet Category 4B segments are 2,4-dimethylphenol, 2- methylphenol, 4-methylphenol, pentachlorophenol, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, phenol, zinc, sediment bioassay, anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, chrysene, fluoranthene, fluorene, high molecular weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (HPAH), pyrene, benzo(a)anthracene, low molecular Weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (LPAH), 2-methylnaphthalene, acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, dibenzofuran, naphthalene, and phenanthrene.