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Port of Everett unveils Blue Heron Slough - one of the region’s largest estuary restorations

Port of Everett and its partners are nearly done with restoration work on 353 acres of estuary at Blue Heron Slough, located in Snohomish County between Everett and Marysville.
Port of Everett
Port of Everett and its partners are nearly done with restoration work on 353 acres of estuary at Blue Heron Slough, located in Snohomish County between Everett and Marysville.

Puget Sound has lost most of its estuaries – the nutrient-rich, marshy lands where rivers meet the sea and fresh water mixes with salt from the ocean. Industry has filled them with docks and ports and farms. Yet, juvenile salmon and other endangered marine species need them to survive.

Earlier this month, the Port of Everett celebrated the return of 353 acres of estuary near the mouth of the Snohomish River. Blue Heron Slough will be fully restored in the coming weeks when a final dike is breached and the tides flow in. It will be the first time in 100 years that the land is reconnected to Puget Sound.

”It's hard to imagine, but just a month ago, the waters you see here today, they weren't here,” said Port of Everett CEO Lisa Lefeber, as she led an unveiling ceremony on freshly turned dirt at the site, a former berry farm located between the cities of Everett and Marysville.

The final phases of restoration work began with the breaching of two dikes in August. She said the project started nearly 30 years ago and is one of the largest undertakings ever at the port.

”This new estuary is bigger than the Port of Everett, Seaport, Naval Station, Everett and all of Waterfront Place, combined. This is a huge project. It's so critical for the salmon and the wildlife.”

Members of the Tulalip tribes performed a blessing song for the ceremonies. Chairwoman Teri Gobin welcomed those gathered.

“From my viewpoint, this project is not only bringing life back to the land and the water, not only helping the salmon survive, but also helping the qal̕qaləx̌ič, the orca whale,” Gobin said.

The tribes hold a conservation easement on Blue Heron Slough and will protect the land in perpetuity, for conservation purposes. Gobin also noted the tribes’ decades-long work on this critical habitat, as well as on many other projects in the estuaries around the Snohomish River, “that provide benefits not only to the tribes but to the surrounding communities.”

Others emphasized that those benefits should not be understated. A great blue heron even made an appearance, swooping in flight before the crowd.

David Dicks, an environmental lawyer with the port’s restoration partner, Wildlands, Inc., who served as the first executive director of the state’s Puget Sound Partnership till 2010, said it was a top priority for the agency back then. He compared it to the Elwha Dam removal, because it connects to two other recent estuary restorations nearby, at Smith Islandand Qwuloolt. Together they total more than a thousand acres – and rival the high-profile Nisqually River Delta restoration near Olympia.

“This is not a little feel good project, you know, daylighting a creek in Seattle or something like that,” Dicks said. “This is the real deal. This is as good of a habitat as you can imagine.”  

He suggests looking at aerial footage of the project to get a sense of the scope. The work was partially funded through a consent decree with Port Gardner Bay Trustees,who agreed to address legacy pollution around the former site of a Weyerhaeuser mill, by investing in restoration work.

Barry Rogowski, Toxics Cleanup Program Manager with the state Department of Ecology’s, said that funding made the final phase of work on Blue Heron Slough possible.

He called the end result “awesome.”

“Just take a look around and remember that this restored land will be here forever as habitat for salmon and other wildlife, he said. 

“This is a big deal. This is one of the larger habitat restoration sites along the West Coast. 350 acres is a significant piece of property – this really does provide a significant area of habitat for mostly juvenile salmon going downstream, but also for some of the migratory fish going back upstream.”

Several tribal members agreed, but cautioned there’s still much to do upstream, to keep salmon and orcas from going extinct.

“We have a lot of fish blockages to open up. We've got water quality issues to deal with and just a lot of other fish habitat work that needs to be done in order to recover our salmon and our orcas for future generations,” said Tulalip tribal member and environmental liaison Daryl Williams.

He accepted a plaque at the event in honor of decades of work done for salmon in the area by his late brother Terry Williams, who died in July.

Williams teared up as he urged others to continue that legacy.

“This is just the beginning. We have a long way to go.” 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to