The Port of Tacoma is one step closer to restoring and reestablishing Lower Wapato Creek into a vibrant tidal wetland and stream complex that will support salmon and other wildlife.

With access to Commencement Bay and Puget Sound, the approximately 20-acre habitat site will feature tidally influenced meandering channels with increased and improved fish habitat and a variety of restored wetlands with an estuarine mudflat. The Lower Wapato Creek Habitat Project will also complement the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ salmon restoration sites upstream, which provide habitat for salmon during their early life stages.

artistic rendering of lower wapato creek

The Port acquired the property at the corner of Alexander Avenue, state Route 509 and 12th Street East in the late 1950s and used it as a dredge material placement site. The Port and Puyallup Tribe have collaborated over six years to plan for this project in a way that improves fish and wildlife habitat, restores wetlands, and respects concerns of the Puyallup Tribe.

In a letter from then-Tribal Council Chairman David Z. Bean in July 2019, the Tribe expressed its support for the project. The letter also included several conditions, which will be addressed and incorporated during the design and permitting process. Port staff will be collaborating closely with the Puyallup Tribe staff during planning, permitting, design, and construction of the site. The Port and Tribal staff will update nearby neighbors, tribal and non-tribal, of project milestones.

“We appreciate the Puyallup Tribe’s support and partnership for this project. We look forward to working together to protect the environment and support salmon, the keystone species for our local ecosystem,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President John McCarthy. “This type of habitat is very limited on the Tacoma Tideflats, and we’re proud to proceed with the Lower Wapato Creek Habitat Project.”

The Tribe has worked hard to restore salmon runs throughout the Puyallup watershed and mitigate damage done in years past.

“Every acre of intertidal habitat we can restore is a step in the right direction,” said Bill Sterud, the current Tribal Council chairman. “The value of this type of habitat for fish, wildlife and water quality is undisputed. The struggle has been trying to find locations where we can cost effectively insert these features within our growing industrial complex.”

photo of a culvert by a road

Port of Tacoma commissioners authorized funding at their Sept. 26, 2019, meeting to complete the planning, design and permitting work, which is anticipated to be completed by spring 2021 when construction is anticipated to begin. At their July 16, 2020, meeting, the commission approved $800,000 for additional design work that includes constructing a short span bridge at the 12th Street Wapato Creek crossing and relocating power poles.

If the project design is approved, the first phase of construction will replace the two undersized culverts and build the stream channels, mudflat and wetlands, and install large wood habitat structures in 2021. The second phase of construction will include the planting of more than 130,000 native plants in 2022. The site will be monitored for 10 years and maintained under the Port’s stewardship program.

The advance mitigation project will generate wetland and fish habitat credits in advance of impacts. The wetland and fish habitat credits may be used to offset unavoidable impacts to wetlands or fish habitat from Port projects after going through environmental and permitting review.

Learn more about the Lower Wapato Creek Habitat Project.

About the Port of Tacoma

The Port of Tacoma is an economic engine for South Puget Sound. More than 29,000 jobs are generated by port activity, which also provides $195 million per year in state and local taxes to support education, roads and police and fire protection for our community. As a partner in The Northwest Seaport Alliance, the Port of Tacoma is also a major cargo gateway to Asia and Alaska.