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Friday, March 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

State investigates effort to redirect Sauk River

By Emily Heffter
Times Snohomish County bureau

ED CONNOR / SEATTLE CITY LIGHT
Someone dug a channel, foreground, in an attempt to divert the Sauk River near Darrington, destroying salmon nests and probably causing erosion downstream. The river can be seen in the background.
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Someone tried to move the Sauk River last month by bulldozing a new channel.

Washington State Fish and Wildlife officers are investigating who moved about 6,000 cubic yards of rock, sand and trees — enough to fill about 2,400 pickup trucks — on a section of the river near Darrington. Officials suspect a nearby resident who may have been concerned about erosion tried to divert the river, destroying salmon nests and probably making erosion worse for downstream neighbors.

"This is a very serious violation," said Doug Williams, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman. Fish and Wildlife officials have seen similar efforts elsewhere. Usually, they said, property owners try to divert water to keep it from eating away at their property.

In this case, October flooding in the area widened the river around a corner, and whoever tried to change the river's path tried to dig a stream that would cut the corner.

"Personally, I've never seen anything quite this egregious," said Rich Costello, regional habitat program manager in Fish and Wildlife's Mill Creek office.

A bulldozer apparently was used to carve out a side channel, creating berms along 1,200 to 1,400 feet of the stream, Williams said.

State investigators are talking to the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's Office about criminal charges, but Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Sgt. Randy Lambert said the charge typically would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The case, which officials stay started with a tip from a caller, also has drawn interest from the federal government because the digging may have harmed endangered species of salmon.

Steelhead, chinook, chum and pink salmon spawn in that part of the Sauk, and it also is inhabited by coho and bull trout, Williams said.

"You've got the potential for digging up and/or burying salmon nests that were in that area," he said, adding that live fish also may have been harmed.
 
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It's too early to know what the state will do to clean up or try to fix the damage caused by the digging, Williams said.

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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