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Published: Thursday, September 25, 2008
County first in state to successfully use wetland banking
By Bill Sheets
EVERETT -- For 10 years, people have enjoyed walks through
shady woods, across bridges over ponds, because of what
seems like a vague bureaucratic notion called "wetland
The Narbeck Wetlands Sanctuary at 6921 Seaway Blvd. in west
Everett is frequented by Boeing employees, ducks and geese.
"It's really busy at lunchtime," said Jim Maynard of the
Friends of Narbeck, a nonprofit group that keeps tabs on the
The 50-acre site, and the 13-acre Swanson Wetland at the
south end of Paine Field, were established in the late 1990s
by Snohomish County, which owns and operates Paine Field. It
spent more than $6 million to build the new wetlands before
it removed several small wetlands on airport property for
runway safety projects. Creating new wetlands before
developing on others is called "banking."
The county was commended by three federal and state agencies
Wednesday as the first in the state to successfully use the
banking concept for wetlands.
Committing money and space to creating new wetland areas
before taking out others demonstrates that the lost
environment will actually be replaced, said Bill Lewallen,
an airport deputy director.
This doesn't always happen with other methods, he said.
These include simply requiring that the wetlands be replaced
later, or having the builder pay a fee for nonprofit
organizations to do it.
Under the agreement with regulatory agencies, the areas had
to be monitored for 10 years to ensure that they met the
standard for high-quality, functioning wetlands. They got
that official confirmation Wednesday from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers
and the state Department of Ecology.
Six other jurisdictions have built have wetlands under a
banking program, but they've yet to be certified, said Josh
Baldi of the Department of Ecology.
The concept was new and untested in the mid-1990s, when
airport managers first wanted to do it. Paine Field
officials knew they'd have to take out small wetlands to
make space for runway safety areas, where planes in trouble
can overrun the pavement yet still stay on level ground.
When they began to explore ideas, it was a bumpy ride.
"I was told, 'Don't touch those wetlands,' " airport
director Dave Waggoner recalled. "There was a click on the
other end of the phone."
Lewallen is given much of the credit for navigating the maze
of red tape to get the deal done. Because of his work on the
project, Waggoner has nicknamed him "the Frogfather."
"This was a very collaborative, community project," Lewallen
said. "There were hundreds of people involved besides
The wetlands were designed by outside firms with expertise
in the field. The Narbeck site was a mix of wetlands, trees,
roads and a dumping ground. Part of it was owned by the
Fluke Corp., part was owned by Snohomish County PUD.
It's not right next to the airport, but recreated wetlands
with open water can't be too close to airport runways anyway
because ducks and geese can cause dangerous problems when
they're sucked through jet engines.
The site was graded with swales to help pools form. The
collected water, combined with that already there, created a
stream. Larger trees were left alone, and more native plants
and trees were planted.
More than 300 volunteers, including Boeing employees, helped
put them in the ground. In pictures, "you can see managers
of the 777 program on their hands and knees in a downpour of
rain," Lewallen said.
The park contains two trails, a small loop trail and a 1
1/2-mile trail around the perimeter, both with educational
signs and self-guided tours.
At the south end of the main Paine Field runway, a piece of
open land behind a row of strip malls along the Mukilteo
Speedway was turned into the Swanson Wetland.
Swanson has no open water because it's just off the end of
the runway. Its open, central area is dominated by cattails,
ringed by smaller native trees and undergrowth. The water is
2 feet deep at most, and draws songbirds, insects and small
critters such as muskrats.
"The last thing you want to do is attract birds and large
mammals when you've got planes coming and going," said
consultant Sarah Spear Cooke, who designed the wetland and
keeps tabs on it today.
The Swanson Wetland is fenced off and not open to the public
because of its proximity to the runway.
The 63-plus acres in new wetlands far exceeds the amount
that was eliminated, Cooke said. This has given the airport
extra "credits" it can use to remove some of the remaining
smaller wetlands it might need for Boeing or other projects,
Still, the airport might eventually need to create another
new wetland, but that's a ways off, he said.
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
My own experience with wetland banking came during a recent
tour put on for Bothell city council persons, hosted by
Cam West Developers. The tour visited a large wetland that
was certified in the Snoqualmie valley just north and west
of Duvall Washington. The site had been farmed - dairy land for
many years. The wetland operator, Snohomish Basin Mitigation
Bank (Victor Woodward - Habitat Banc NW) is in the process of
creating other wetland banks at locations in western Washington
near population centers.