When the Port of Tacoma dredges the Blair Waterway next year to make a new terminal for a new generation of ultra-large containerships, it plans to use the spoils from that dredging to create a shallow aquatic nursery for juvenile fish and birds at the mouth of the nearby Hylebos Waterway.
The Port of Tacoma Commission Thursday authorized port environmental planners to speed up planning for the Saltchuk Aquatic Mitigation Site to allow the port to use the waste materials from the Pier 4 terminal project to create a shallow tidal area along Marine View Drive.
The port owns 17 acres between Marine View Drive and the Hylebos Waterway north of East 11th Street. That narrow strip of line once was home to a small neighborhood of former fisherman’s cottages built on stilts over the water. Since the port bought the site in 2005, it has been negotiating with residents, who owned the houses but not the land on which they stood, to vacate their homes to make way for the aquatic habitat project.
The port last year demolished two of those homes. It plans to raze five more this summer leaving just four homes on the tract. The port also is negotiating with the state Department of Natural Resources to modify its lease on 40 acres of submerged tidelands adjacent to the site. The port wants DNR permission to decrease the water depth there by placing the soil, sand and rocks dredged from the Blair project on the tidelands.
That disposal of the dredge spoils would create swallower water that port environmental officials told port commissioners is perfect as the home for juvenile salmon and other fish and shorebirds.
Planning to create the new habitat will cost about $595,000 to reach the stage where the port can apply for permits to build the habitat from state and federal agencies.
Meanwhile on the Blair Waterway, the port is working to straighten out Pier 4 to allow larger ships to call on the terminal north of East 11th Street. The port will be installing wider gauge rails to handle the larger cranes that will be needed to handle container loading on the new generation of container ships that are likely to call on the port in the near future.
If the port doesn’t hustle to get planning and permits done for the aquatic habitat, the dredge spoils from the megaship project will likely be wasted, dumped at a deepwater disposal site in the middle of Commencement Bay.