Washington’s expensive culvert court case

While much of the media buzz over declining salmon runs focuses on dam removal and predation by sea lions and cormorants, the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to decide whether Washington State needs to spend an additional $2.4 billion to replace more road culverts.

In 2001, Western Washington Tribes sued claiming the state needed to remove culverts which block salmon migrating to spawning channels. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the Tribes and oral arguments were heard at the Supreme Court in April.

The state argues much of the culvert replacement is completed. In 2013, the state legislature added $300 million to the transportation budget to remove fish barriers. Washington’s State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) worked with the state’s Dept. of Fish & Wildlife to identify and repair problem culverts on over 7,000 miles of state highways.

Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell argued that the lower court rulings ignore the fact that the salmon harvests affected by the culverts have declined less than 5 percent. “We have to replace culverts when no salmon can reach them,” he said. “And that is an utter waste of public funds.”

Agriculture groups, such as the Washington Farm Bureau, support the state’s contention and believe, if the nation’s high court allows the decision to stand, “it will bolster lawsuits to remove dams, restrict irrigation and challenge anything else potentially harmful to fish,” the Capital Press website reported in April.

As part of the Forests & Fish Law, forest landowners in Washington — both private landowners and public forestland managers — have removed 7,300 fish passage barriers since 2001 across 9.3 million acres, Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, wrote recently in the Everett Herald.

These landowners have spent $313 million opening up 5,100 miles of fish habitat. Private and public forest landowners have completed 84 percent of their goals and are on track to clear all the fish passage barriers in forested streams by 2021.

While Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson appealed the 9th Circuit Court Order to upgrade more than 800 culverts by 2030. Former AG Rob McKenna submitted a brief on behalf of the Washington State Association of Counties and the Association of Washington of Cities. McKenna’s brief warns that letting the court order stand could force local governments spend money they don’t have.

Doumit, a former state legislator from Cathlamet, believes that collaboration is better than confrontation. “We sat at the table on an agreement that is paying dividends for the environment and keeping all the parties out of court.”

Washington forest landowners have fixed the thousands of culverts as part of the Forests & Fish Law, a historic agreement between federal, state, tribal and county governments and private forest landowners. All of the parties agreed on a set of forest practices that protect 60,000 miles of streams running through 9.3 million acres of state and private forestland.

There are many reasons for the decline in salmon runs, but improving water quality and fixing the tens of thousands of fish-blocking culverts in Washington are already part of the solution.

“While we have made a lot of progress in fixing fish passage barriers, we need to address all the major habitat factors affecting salmon. We have a shared responsibility to address the health of our salmon and waterways, and collaboration is the best way to ensure our success,” Doumit concluded. “Salmon are an integral part of Washington’s culture, spirit and identity. It is our collective responsibility to protect them.”

Unfortunately, today far too much money is spent in court where it should go to increasing the salmon population.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

A cloudy day at Renton Municipal Airport. Photo by Haley Ausbun
Renton considers legal avenues for airport plan

The city is looking at how it can combat the FAA’s masterplan requirements

Courtesy of Renton Schools. Through a mentor program between local students and car dealerships, involving Renton School District Career Technical Education (CTE) worksite learning coordinators, nonprofit Mentor Washington and Communities in Schools Renton-Tukwila, students are getting both careers and a friendly hand on stepping into the adulthood. Pictured: First mentee in the program Nick Romo, who has gone on to continue his career after the program and is nearly a master technician, in a video about the program.
Dealing kids a better future

Local car dealerships mentor Renton students for future careers

Courtesy of City of Renton. Site area for the Park Avenue North extension, a project from the city and SECO development that creates a second access point for Southport.
SECO expands its reach

Two new land acquisitions will expand Southport

Dennis Muilenburg, who was ousted as CEO of Boeing Dec. 23, in a September video from the company where he shared safety improvements.
Boeing CEO is out

After recently announcing the temporary shutdown of the Renton Boeing plant, Dennis Muilenburg is replaced by board of directors.

Boeing Renton plant to halt 737 Max production

Suspension expected to begin in January

New gym gains national attention

Photo by Kevin Pieczynski-Jones At the new Renton business Benavidez Sports Training,… Continue reading

Business alliance serves women of African diaspora in South King County

Nourah Yonous launched the African Women Business Alliance in 2017 to find ways to lift women up.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Wyman and Vicky Dobson, as Wyman Dobson receives a certificate and medal for being a founder of the Nishiwaki-Renton sister cities. Wyman recently retired and sold his family building, where he had been an attorney for 59 years.
Dobson shuts his doors, leaves behind a nearly 60-year legacy

Long-time local lawyer, leader chooses to retire

A King County judge found the company misled customers into thinking it was a charity. Photo courtesy of the state Attorney General’s office
Judge rules Value Village deceived customers

The King County judge found the company misled customers into thinking it was a charity.

Fake website attempts to lure Renton businesses

A fake business claiming to be a part of the Renton Reporter’s… Continue reading

Republic Services sanitation workers on strike in Massachusetts. COURTESY PHOTO
No garbage, recycling service in Renton Friday | Update

Pickets set up to support sanitation workers on strike in Massachusetts

Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to develop luxury hotel at Auburn casino

Opening in 2021, dynamic resort experience to meet guest demand, the tribe says