United effort can create a better Shelton waterfront

Shelton Harbor in Oakland Bay is still a working waterfront in every sense of the phrase.

There is very little public access or environmental restoration taking place in the marine waters and shoreline in downtown Shelton, unlike Olympia’s Budd Inlet.

Lower Budd Inlet features Percival Landing, marinas, the Port of Olympia Plaza, Rotary Park, East Bay redevelopment and other features that attract people to the water and the water’s edge.

The Shelton waterfront is dominated by Simpson Timber Co. wood products operations that keep downtown Shelton separated from Oakland Bay.

But there’s some subtle changes in the wind that could lead to a new, more environmentally friendly vision of Shelton Harbor.

The Squaxin Island Tribe recently announced plans to begin work on a fish and wildlife restoration project in Shelton Harbor, which is the southwestern most terminus of Puget Sound.

Over the next year, the tribe will work with harbor landowners to develop a list of mutually agreeable actions to improve the health of this industrialized estuary.

It is important to note that Simpson Timber Co. has been active in the initial planning for the project. The project won’t go anywhere without the company’s willing participation.

So far, the signs of cooperation are encouraging.

“If we want to protect Oakland Bay, we need to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat, too,” said Dave McEntee, Simpson vice president.

The timber company owns the bulk of the shoreline and tidelands that make up the inner harbor, but there are other landowners that need to be involved, too.

The other landowners should follow the lead of Simpson and work with the tribe.

One of the goals of the project would be to boost coho production in Goldsborough Creek, which flows right past Simpson’s lumber operations into Shelton Harbor.

The tribe and Simpson already have a history of cooperation when it comes to Goldsborough Creek. In 2001, they and other project partners successfully removed an old Simpson dam on the creek that blocked valuable rearing and spawning habitat upstream of the dam. The project significantly boosted coho production in Goldsborough Creek.

“Goldsborough is the only system in all of Puget Sound that has produced more, not less, coho in the last few years,” noted John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “All other creeks and rivers have experienced a severe decline, especially in South Sound.”

Habitat improvements in Shelton Harbor would be a logical extension of the work that’s already occurred in the creek.

One possible project would involve creating more gradual slopes along portions of the shoreline to allow salt marsh plants to grow.

It’s a type of estuary habitat missing from the inner harbor, a habitat that could help juvenile coho transition from fresh water to salt water.

Lumber operations in the inner harbor have evolved over the years, reducing the number of water-dependent activities, including log rafts that once covered the surface of lower Oakland Bay. Fewer log rafts mean more opportunity for habitat and water quality improvements.

A state Department of Ecology assessment of sediments in Oakland Bay and Shelton Harbor found dioxins present throughout the harbor and bay. A review by the state Department of Health suggests the pollution isn’t severe enough to restrict people from eating shellfish harvested in Oakland Bay, a prime commercial shellfish growing area.

Because of their low fat content, shellfish aren’t prone to accumulating dioxin.

However some cleanup may be required. Properly coordinated, the habitat restoration plan and cleanup plan could advance at the same time, improving the health of Shelton Harbor and pointing to the day when the waterfront is more than just an industrial zone.