Workers begin removing derelict dock on Fox Island

Almost a century ago, it served the Mosquito Fleet at the north end of Fox Island

Staff writerSeptember 25, 2013 

A dilapidated ferry dock on the north side of Fox Island dating back to Puget Sound’s historic Mosquito Fleet is being removed as part of a state cleanup.

Workers are taking out the dock and 182 creosote-treated pilings spread across five sites on the shoreline facing Hale Passage.

The project’s purpose is to remove toxic materials and produce a healthier and cleaner Puget Sound, said Jordanna Black of the Department of Natural Resources.

It advances a state goal of removing several thousand pilings from Puget Sound waters by 2017.

“Every little bit helps,” Black said.

A crew using a 60-foot-tall crane on a barge started removing the pier last week. It was gone by Saturday, except for a small portion protecting the adjacent roadway, said Black, the project’s manager.

The dock’s wingwall and clusters of pilings called dolphins are located in deeper water, separated from the pier. They’re not expected to be removed until the last week of the project in early October.

The pilings leach pollutants that are harmful to marine life, the department said. The cleanup is projected to cost $113,300. The work will take in a wide area along the north side of the island.

The dock, with 160 pilings and 3,000 square feet of deck, was once a port of call for the Mosquito Fleet, named for the hundreds of steamships that carried people and supplies around Puget Sound. The dock shows up on nautical charts as early as 1924 but may have been used earlier, according to DNR research.

The Mosquito Fleet was in its peak from the 1880s though the early 1920s — the era before cars and bridges connected islands and peninsulas to the mainland. The fleet’s importance to South Sound history is illustrated in a featured exhibit that opened this year at the Fox Island Museum.

This dock was used for car ferry service dating back to the 1920s or earlier. The first car ferry was called the Transit and the last was the City of Steilacoom, according to DNR.

Ferry service ended in 1954 with the opening of the Fox Island Bridge. It connects the island and its more than 3,500 residents to the Gig Harbor Peninsula.

Jim Braden, who lives two houses away from the dock, expressed bittersweet emotions about the removal.

“I can understand the logic of taking something out like that that has creosote on it,” Braden said.

But he added that the pier is an iconic feature he’ll miss.

“I happen to like it,” said Braden, who is president of the Fox Island Community and Recreation Association. “It’s a chunk of history.”

While boating and snorkeling, Braden has seen the array of sea stars, crabs, mussels and sea anemones on the pilings.

“I’m just hoping that the loss of those is not going to have a major impact on the ecosystem we have here,” Braden said.

The project includes removing smaller numbers of pilings scattered at four other sites along Fox Island. Those pilings could be remnants of floats or docks, Black said.

Work at the other sites was expected to start this week..

Black said she’s heard mixed sentiments from residents about removing the dock.

Creosote reduces salmon growth and affects the fish’s immune systems. It’s also harmful to herring, which salmon eat. Hale Passage is a spawning ground for herring, Black said.

Removing the dock eliminates a constant source of creosote and a threat to water quality and local habitat, she said. If it’s not removed, the derelict dock will eventually break apart and disperse toxins into the Sound.

The same crane and barge — the biggest cost of the project — is being used for each site. Black said a vibratory hammer is used to break the seal between the pilings and sediment. The crane pulls out the pilings using a cable.

Removal of pilings closest to shore is taking place first to avoid harming sand lance and surf smelt before they start to spawn, Black said.

The project is part of the state’s Jobs Now Act to create jobs boosting the state’s economy. A five-person crew from Blackwater Marine in Kirkland is doing the work.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ @TNTstevemaynard

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