Skagit County is seeking $1 million in state funding to design replacements for 11 of its worst-performing culverts, which is the first step in removing restrictions to fish passage.

The intent of funding the design phase now is to create shovel-ready projects that are more attractive to government grant programs, including one in the recently-passed federal 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to a county document.

As part of its proposal for the state funding, Public Works staff identified and ranked the 1,072 culverts under county ownership on the basis of the severity of blockage, and on the amount of fish habitat a replacement would make accessible.

Of these, 122 were found to present some barrier to fish passage, according to a report done by Skagit County, the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, and a number of local fishery and watershed advocacy groups.

Four of the 11 selected are completely blocked, and the remaining seven are about two-thirds blocked, according to the report.

If all 11 are eventually replaced, access to 8 acres of fish habitat would be added, and two thirds of the fully-blocked county-owned culverts would be cleared.

Skagit River Basin habitat supports all five species of salmon, as well as both steelhead and bull trout — three species of which are considered threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“In order to ensure the survivability of all of these species, and others, in perpetuity, fish passage barriers need to be removed and they need to be removed quickly,” the county document reads.

Assuming the culvert replacement project is fully funded, the 11 culverts could be replaced in two to five years, according to the county document.

Culverts deteriorate over time, and can become blocked by debris.

“They break or crack and they become impossible for fish to pass through, keeping critical species from reaching important habitat,” the document reads.

According to the county proposal, design work would be funded with about $800,000 in local capital improvement dollars, and $1 million in state funding to be requested by state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, in the upcoming 2022 legislative session.

Once the design work is complete, the county would apply for grants to replace the culverts.

The average culvert costs $1 million to replace.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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