Work begins soon to clean polluted runoff into Padden Creek estuary

The second of two projects to improve the health of Padden Creek estuary by collecting and cleaning polluted runoff could begin as soon as June.

Its design and construction is expected to cost a little more than $1.1 million. The project still must go out to bid.

An estuary is where salt water and fresh water mix. Located off of Harris Avenue near Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Padden Creek estuary provides important habitat for wildlife and fish, including adult and juvenile salmon that use it as a migration corridor, according to Bellingham officials. The estuary has been altered a great deal over time because of urban and industrial development.

People can learn about the project at an open house Tuesday, May 5, at Fairhaven library.

Small estuaries, including Padden Creek estuary, have become increasingly important as the amount of intertidal habitat in Bellingham Bay has shrunk, city officials have said, noting that about 282 acres of aquatic land have been lost in the inner part of the bay.

The project will help the estuary by cleaning stormwater — from 90 acres upland, one of Bellingham’s largest urban areas — that now flows untreated from a 30-inch diameter pipe and discharges into the estuary.

Stormwater runoff carries such pollutants as oil that has leaked from cars and heavy metals from brake pads. The project will grab water from an existing storm main at Ninth Street and Harris Avenue and treat it by removing those pollutants. Doing so is important because the estuary is where salmon stay as they transition between salt water and fresh water.

“These are important habitats for that,” said Bill Reilly, who manages Bellingham’s stormwater program.

The fish in the estuary come from Padden, Whatcom and Squalicum creeks, as well as the Nooksack River.

Removing pollutants is important for another reason.

“It makes its way all the way up the food chain,” said Renee LaCroix, ecology and restoration manager for the city of Bellingham. “Just like humans, it has negative consequences for the organisms where that ends up in their body.”

Construction could go into October or November. Fairhaven Neighborhood asked for the project, city officials said.

A state Ecology Department grant will pay for 75 percent of the project, with the city covering the rest. While construction isn’t expected to start until June, other businesses could be in the area sooner moving their utilities.

The work will occur mainly in the shoulder of Harris Avenue from Ninth Street west, according to Larry Scholten, project engineer for the city. One block of Eighth Street between Harris and McKenzie avenues will be closed during construction, he added.

“I don’t expect them to be a huge impact, but there will be some impacts to traffic on Harris,” Scholten said.