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Originally published October 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 25, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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$125,000 in pollution fines to help Duwamish salmon

The penalties against Sound Transit will be used to fund seven projects to help the river and the fish that call it home.

Seattle Times staff reporter

It seemed appropriate, all involved agreed, that the $125,000 in water-pollution penalties levied against Sound Transit be used to fund seven projects to help the beleaguered Duwamish River, and its beleaguered salmon.

After all, the sizable number of violations with which the agency was cited — more than two dozen in 2005-06 — came from the construction of the highly-touted "green" light-rail that will connect downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and ease traffic congestion.

But the light rail lost some of its greenness when polluted storm water from the project ended up in the Duwamish.

In some instances, this was created when it rained after concrete had been poured but not set, and there was runoff, said Bruce Gray, spokesman for Sound Transit.

"On a major construction project like this, we do the best we can to make sure contractors meet all of our environmental permit requirements, but, unfortunately, things like this happen," Gray said.

The state's Department of Ecology said such runoff can muddy up spawning areas, suffocating salmon eggs; and clog gills, making it harder for salmon and other fish to breathe.

Now, under an agreement announced Wednesday with the state, the transit agency will immediately fund the seven projects.

These projects — ranging from razing invasive plants such as blackberries, to removing tires, boulders and concrete blocks dumped along the shoreline — are to be completed in the next 18 months.

For their parts, the city of Tukwila, through which the Duwamish flows, and various groups that have worked to restore the river were only too happy to accept Sound Transit's money.

Standing along the western shore of the river, where South Riverside Drive dead-ends, Robin Clark gingerly made her way along rocks and concrete slabs lining the shore.

Nature took second place here, amid construction, tool, forging and other industrial companies. Here and there, blackberry bushes were wrapping themselves around rusting trailers, railroad ties and mangled cyclone fencing.

Clark is the habitat-restoration-project manager for People for Puget Sound, a nonprofit that will oversee the seven projects.

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At the dead-end street not far from West Marginal Way South, she talked about her vision for the river shoreline.

For this site, $20,000 has been allocated for regrading and planting native vegetation.

Because of the boulders and slabs along the shore, predator fish thrive there and attack the baby salmon, Clark said.

In its natural state, she said, the Duwamish would have mudflats.

"The small fish like the shallow water so the big fish can't come," she said.

Sound Transit said it will try to recoup the $125,000 from PCL Construction Services, the contractor involved in the violations.

On its Web site, PCL describes itself as "a group of independent construction companies working out of major offices in 27 locations across Canada, United States and the Bahamas."

A local spokesman was not available for comment.

For Doug Osterman, the $125,000 is another step toward saving a river that to some simply looks like a transportation channel.

"In the process of straightening the river, and dredging the river, and replacing what used to be a significant mudflat estuary, we've lost 98 percent of that habitat," said the coordinator for the Duwamish and Green River Watershed, which is sponsored by a coalition of 17 local governments. "The juvenile chinook salmon have to rear themselves in the 2 percent that's left."

But, Osterman said, "We're pretty excited. We can turn this around."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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