Work on a major development project along the banks of the Snohomish River in Everett, Washington will stop later this month because the Federal Highway Administration has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a new biological review of the Project’s harm to native salmon. The work stoppage comes in response to a lawsuit challenging the 41st Street Overcrossing Project — what had been the first step in a larger development scheme that will harm threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon by filling streams and wetlands and destroying estuary habitat vital for salmon survival.
Pilchuck Audubon Society and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, represented by Earthjustice, have challenged a decision by NMFS known as a biological opinion — a document that analyzes the impacts of developments on threatened and endangered salmon. Biological opinions are supposed to guide development in ways that will not harm the fish.
The Federal Highway Administration relied on the faulty biological opinion to fulfill its own duty to protect endangered salmon and their habitat. The agency’s action seeking a new biological opinion implicitly admits the failings of the prior biological review.
“The government blinked,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Because NMFS did not do its job the first time, the Federal Highway Administration has asked them to reconsider the harmful effects of the Project, and work will be halted in the meantime.”
The Snohomish River watershed provides vital rearing, spawning, and migration habitat for Puget Sound chinook salmon. The Snohomish River is the second largest drainage in Puget Sound and salmon depend on its estuary and upstream habitat for survival. Although the development area once contained a timber mill and other industry, it contains over 70 wetlands, beaver dams, and Bigelow Creek, critical habitat for salmon.
“The Federal Highway Administration action halts work on the Project and demands a fresh look at the harm of this Project,” said Susan Adams, SmartGrowth Campaign Director of Pilchuck Audubon Society. “In the long citizen battle over the vision for this area, this is a victory.”
“The Snohomish River estuary is regarded by many biologists as critical for salmon survival,” said Lea Mitchell, Washington State Director of PEER. “We will be watching government agencies closely during this new biological opinion process to make sure that politics do not continue to stand in the way of science.”