Neighbors gathered Friday, Oct. 9, to watch a temporary dam being removed from part of Padden Creek off Old Fairhaven Parkway.
Crews pulled out the last cofferdam near 22nd Street to allow the creek to flow, marking a milestone in the $2.8 million Padden Creek “daylighting” project, which is expected to wrap up in early November.
“Things went wonderful today. It just shows how much community support and interest there is in these habitat restoration projects,” said Craig Mueller, project engineer for the city of Bellingham, referring to the crowd that had gathered to watch the creek flow into its new channel.
Strider Construction is doing the work.
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For more than 120 years, a nearly half-mile section of Padden Creek between 22nd and 17th streets had been forced through a tunnel. To return it to a more natural state, the city of Bellingham took 2,300 feet of Padden Creek from the 8-foot-tall and 4-foot-wide brick tunnel and rerouted it into a new channel that will run roughly parallel to the tunnel and underneath the bridge near 20th Street that was built by the state Department of Transportation.
The project includes the creation of a riparian corridor, which is habitat near a river or stream.
It’s believed that part of the creek was routed through the tunnel in 1892 to help drain wetlands in part of Happy Valley so a train station could be built for Great Northern Railroad.
The project to get the creek out of that tunnel and into a new channel has been about three decades in the making. Doing so will allow for salmon passage, improve habitat, and reduce flooding, according to the city.
The tunnel, which is still in good shape, will be left in place to serve as a vault to hold stormwater. It also will provide emergency capacity for extreme flooding.
The project also included building a new pedestrian bridge to replace the crossing near the parking lot for the Interurban Trail off Old Fairhaven Parkway near 20th Street. That new 80-foot span went in Thursday, Oct. 8.
Removing the temporary dam and putting in the bridge signifies the end of the in-stream work.
That was originally supposed to end Sept. 30, but the state extended the city’s so-called “fish window” for construction work in the salmon stream to Oct. 15 because of heavy rains, flooding and a water main break in September.
The city lost 2 million to 3 million gallons of water, most of which flowed down to the Padden Creek daylighting site.
Padden Creek is 2 1/2 miles long and flows from Lake Padden to Bellingham Bay, going through Fairhaven, Happy Valley and Samish neighborhoods along the way.
Area residents chatted and laughed Friday as they stood by the side of Old Fairhaven Parkway and waited for the creek to flow past. Since Monday, water pumps had been keeping creek water out of the area so the work could be completed. Then, the creek was allowed to slowly flow into the new channel.
Expected rainfall this weekend will fill in the creekbed more.
“It will happen. It just takes some time. The faster the water comes in with additional rain, the quicker that will be,” Mueller said.
Crews will complete the rest of the project in the coming days.
“There’s lots of little things to finish up before the entire project is done,” Mueller said.
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or email@example.com.