Missing the boat at Old Mill site?

One of the biggest challenges of developing Old Mill Park will be balancing aesthetics with the environmental sensitivity of the location, according to Rick Fackler, park planner for Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department.

That challenge is underscored by a debate that recently surfaced over whether to remove close-to-shore pilings and a sunken boat located in Dyes Inlet near the Clear Creek estuary.

“What it comes down to is when you’re looking at the environment, when you start tampering with something there are pluses and minuses, ... It is not a clear-cut issue,” said Jon Day, a retired Olympic High School biology teacher.

The Parks and Recreation Department received a $300,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources for shoreline habitat improvements at the Old Mill site, according to Fackler. About $10,000 is earmarked for removal of concrete debris, the sunken boat and to saw off the pilings just below ground, according to project coordinator Larry Cote.

Impact fees, charged to developers when they build new structures, will cover remaining costs to develop the park, Fackler said.

Everyone agrees that the Clear Creek estuary is important to wildlife. Birds — including heron, eagles and osprey — feed there, and salmon spend much of their early lives feeding along the shoreline.

The debate centers around how best to protect the sensitive site, and which species need protection most.

Day said that removing the pilings might stir up creosote, a toxic wood preservative. The toxins could wash ashore and harm small crustaceans, sand fleas and other insects young salmon consume.

Ivan Summers, a member of the Kitsap Audubon Society, said the pilings should be left because they provide perches and habitat for birds.

“They are part of the history of the site, and birds nest there. We have nesting boxes on some of (the pilings) for purple martins, which nest in cavities close to the water,” Summers said.

Cote said that one third of Puget Sound shoreline has been altered by bulkheads, fill and other structures. Those modifications degrade fish and wildlife habitat, he said, and the goal of the grant is to improve salmon habitat.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended removal of the debris, he added.

“The boat is not exactly safe,” Cote said. “There are nails sticking out of it and predatory fish can hide around the boat and the pilings.”

Nadean Ross said she appreciates the historical and aesthetic aspects of the boat and wants to retain close-to-shore pilings as bird perches.

She pointed out that in Edmonds, people deliberately sink vessels as habitat for marine life and a destination for divers.

“I think residents would feel bad if they just yanked it out of there. Would it do more damage to move it? What will they do with it when it is on the shore?” she asked.

To that Fackler replied, “I concur, I think (the boat) is neat-looking. But on the other side there are some liability concerns. The overriding view is we want to do well by fish, by salmon. We have been told by the fisheries folks that it presents a threat of salmon at a certain point of their lives.”

Work on the park will likely begin in mid-June, according to Cote.

“We are in the process of hiring a consultant to do precise plans and specifications that we can take out for contractors to bid on,” Fackler said.

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