March Point Great Blue Herons

March Point Great Blue Herons

By Regan Weeks

In many ways, the Great Blue Heron is the iconic nearshore and tideland species for Skagit County.  They are present year-round, often found hunting little fish in the water or frogs and voles in our fields.  In part because of our many productive estuarine bays (Padilla, Similk, Fidalgo, Skagit) and our temperate climate, great blue herons seem to be more abundant in our part of the Salish Sea than anywhere else on the West Coast.

Herons are colonial nesters, and the March’s Point heron colony (located near the Whitmarsh Landfill) is thought to be one of the largest colonies on the West Coast, easily containing over 500 nests.  An exact count is not easy to get, because while the Skagit Land Trust owns 3.5 acres of the fir forest in which the colony is built, nests are also built on neighboring properties, and the Trust does not have full access. In 2016, T Bailey Inc. worked with Skagit Land Trust to place a conservation easement upon a portion of their property within the current heronry, protecting approximately 5.5 more acres (or a total of 9 contiguous protected acres.

Herons begin returning to refurbish their nests in late February/early March; egg laying happens by mid to late March; and first hatching starts in late April.  We know the specifics for this particular colony because Skagit Land Trust, working in partnership with the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Interpretive Center and others, installed a camera high in a Douglas fir in 2006 to enable us to look down directly into heron nests.  The system was upgraded in 2014, and during the last season the camera lens could be remotely operated to look directly into 15 different nests.  We could watch vicariously as parents brought food to their growing chicks and as the chicks squabbled among themselves for scraps.  The chicks are bottomless pits, always waiting for their parents to bring them something more.

The camera is manipulated via the computer at the Interpretive Center and fulfills two purposes:

1)     During the nesting season, volunteers can show visitors the herons and chicks on nests on the monitor, helping visitors to learn more about herons and our environment, and

2)     After training with the Land Trust stewards, Jim & Levy Scheltens, volunteers can help collect citizen science data such as nest success, predation events, behavior monitoring, chick food identification, etc.

If you wish to volunteer with heron education, please contact Samantha Russell, the Coastal Volunteer Partnership coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. If you wish to volunteer with a heron citizen science project, please contact Jim & Levy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You can also view the Heron Cam from your own computer.  It is available from 9-5 daily during the nesting season – usually from March to August.  If you happen to log on when Jim & Levy are monitoring nests, get ready as your computer goes along for the ride when the camera swoops from nest to nest – it’s a real thrill ride!

Note about author:  Regan Weeks is an avid birder and works as a citizen scientist gathering data on Great Blue Herons in Skagit County.

March Point "Whitmarsh" Landfill Cleanup

March Point "Whitmarsh" Landfill Cleanup

By Betty Carteret

The current cleanup site being addressed under the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup program by the Washington Department of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program (Ecology) is the March Point (aka Whitmarsh) Landfill site.  The site is located on the southwest shore of Padilla Bay in an area that was originally a marsh that was filled in and reinforced with rip rap during installation of the railroad line into Anacortes that now only travels as far as the Tesoro Refinery on March Point.

The landfill site is on the old county highway now South March Point Road, which was the main road into Anacortes and other points on Fidalgo Island until the 1950s. The nearby intersection with East March Point Road was once known as Whitmarsh Junction shown in this 1930s era photo with its tavern and gas station located near the current site of the T Bailey fabrication plant.

Witmarsh Anacortes Museum

Photo courtesy of Anacortes Museum Wally Funk Collection – by Ferd Bradey ca. 1930s

The cleanup of this former landfill site is being undertaken by Ecology in conjunction with “Potentially Liable Parties” who have been shown to bear potential responsibility for the contamination at the site.   They include Skagit County, which operated the landfill, Shell Oil Company and Texaco, Inc., Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR), and several private parties who have ownership ties to the property, including the former owner of the Snow Mountain Sawmill closed in 2010. Ecology is also working closely with other stakeholders including the Swinomish Indian Nation and City of Anacortes in the evaluation and planning for the cleanup work.

This former landfill site has a long history of operating originally as an informal local garbage disposal site and later as an unregulated dump starting around 1950, which was taken over and run by Skagit County until 1973 when it was shut down. From 1961 – 1969 the county operated a burn dump and then converted it to a sanitary landfill that operated until 1973.  The site received household, commercial and industrial waste, which the county covered or “capped” in a manner that does not meet current environmental standards.

WasteCap1  WasteCap2

Photos courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology

From 1980 to 2011 the Snow Mountain Sawmill operated at the north end of the site and added a thick layer or sawdust and wood waste on top of the old landfill.  In 2014, WA DNR completed the removal of 44,000 cubic yards of wood waste and sawdust from the site, which now transitions to the responsibility of Ecology and liable parties to complete remediation of the landfill.  In 2015, a 4-foot-high berm was constructed on the site to control erosion.

Whitmarsh berm

A Remedial Investigation Feasibility Study (RI/FS) was conducted by Ecology from 2008 to 2014 to investigate what was disposed at the site and where it is located in order to determine the nature of contaminants and their threat to human health and the environment.  Sampling was performed in several phases including soil sampling, groundwater and seepage sampling, sediment sampling, and surface water sampling. Additional studies included geophysical and geotechnical surveys, digging a test pit, a tidal study, landfill gas study, chemical analyses, and an archaeology study.  Not surprisingly as this was a landfill for residential waste, the largest amount of waste identified was metallic waste like disposed washing machines, scrap metal, metal siding, and 55 gallon drums.  Concern was alleviated about potential contaminants in drums when further investigation found those excavated to be empty. More concerning is the fact that soil samples were found to exceed allowed levels for metal contaminants including arsenic, copper, manganese, zinc, nickel, strontium, mercury, and lead.  Other toxins identified include PCBs, volatile organic compounds, and dioxins. A “fingerprinting” analysis was performed to determine the origin of dioxins found in the soil and surrounding sediments to try and identify the source in the upland watershed.

A path of drainage from highway 20 was mapped out and identified as the source of much of the contamination in the nearshore sediments.  The results of bioassay, chemical, and bio-accumulative testing of sediments from around the site found that there was no impact on the sediments of the lagoon or Padilla Bay from the landfill. In the area labeled Unit B below, it was found that the bio-accumulative carcinogen, Dioxin, exceeds safe levels and is most likely coming from other off-site sources.

Witmarshchemicalmap

Armed with this information, Ecology developed a list of alternatives to evaluate as candidates for remediation of the site.  The alternatives that were investigated are listed below.

 #1: No action

#2: Renovate existing capping materials

#3: GCLL CAP – geosynthetic clay cap

#4: HDPE CAP – high density plastic cap over landfill area

#5: HDPE anchored into bay mud – high density plastic extended into bay

#6: PVC CAP – PVC plastic cap over landfill area

#7: Landfill (all solid waste) removal – complete excavation and backfill

Habitat restoration is one of the factors included in determining an acceptable alternative.  Ecology is considering re-contouring the site along the inner lagoon, removing invasive blackberry vines, and hydroseeding with native backshore vegetation.  Ecology has consulted with the Skagit Land Trust about the March Point Heronry, which is across the road from the site, to determine what types of habitat restoration might benefit the Great Blue Herons that have over 500 nests in their colony.

Ecology performed a detailed evaluation of the options to compare feasibility, performance, risk, and cost for each option.  Although people may jump to the conclusion that the landfill should be completely removed as their first reaction, cost for value provided as compared to the risk posed to human health and the environment must be considered. After all, “we” the taxpayers are ultimately paying a significant portion of the cleanup cost.  With many sites across the state that need to be addressed, funding is limited and cost/benefit analysis plays a key role in the decision process.

Ecology is preparing the March Point Landfill RI/FS documents, including identification of a preferred alternative, for release to the public in early spring 2016.  The public is encouraged to review these documents either online or at the Anacortes Public Library and submit questions or provide comments to Ecology.  Notices of the public comment period will be published in local media and through the Friends of Skagit Beaches Trail Tales mailing list.  We will also post information links on our “Trail Tales Fidalgo Bay” Facebook page.  A summary of the schedule for completing the project is shown below.

RI/FS Public Comment Period & Finalization                       Spring 2016

Draft Cleanup Action Plan out for public comment              Fall 2017

Permit development and approval                                     2017 – 2018

Cleanup Field Construction                                               2019

Site monitoring                                                               2020 +

For more information contact:  Arianne Fernandez, WA Ecology This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Local contact:  Betty Carteret, Friends of Skagit Beaches This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Anacortes Baywide Cleanup Update

Anacortes Baywide Cleanup Update

By Betty Carteret

Washington Department of Ecology in partnership with the Port of Anacortes, City of Anacortes, Samish Indian Nation, Swinomish and other local Tribes, and private landowners is making great progress in cleaning up contaminated shoreline areas in Anacortes along Fidalgo Bay, Padilla Bay, and Guemes Channel.  This cleanup work is bringing new life and energizing the economy of the Anacortes waterfront removing a legacy of toxic contamination from old mills, marinas, and waste sites.

The Anacortes Baywide Cleanup is the project that brings together cleanup work at the following sites under the State’s Puget Sound Initiative.  Projects are funded by a combination of sources including the Puget Sound Initiative, Model Toxics Control Act tax revenue, liable parties (corporations, businesses, governmental agencies, individual landowners), and grants.  Below is a summary of the status of cleanup work at these site and some links to other articles about the work.

Cap Sante Marine (11th & R, Port of Anacortes)

o   completed 2008; revisit monitoring in progress

Dakota Creek (Guemes Channel, Port of Anacortes)

o    in-water interim cleanup completed 2008

o   RI/FS[1] for upland cleanup in progress; cleanup slated for 2017/2018

Former Scott Paper Mill (Seafarers’ Park, Port of Anacortes, Kimberly Clark)

o   cleanup completed 2008; monitoring site thru 2020

MJB Properties – North Dock (part of Scott Paper Mill site)

o   Interim cleanup 2008– owner requests NFA[2]

MJB Properties – Hydrofill (T Avenue at 28th)

o   interim cleanup at boat launch during construction 2013; requests NFA

Custom Plywood Mill Site (34th & V, private landowner)

o    upland cleanup completed 2011; major in-water cleanup completed 2013

o   monitoring thru 2022; view video here

Former Shell Tank Farm (14th / 13th & Q, Shell Oil)

o   cleanup completed 2014; monitoring in progress

Port Log Yard (Guemes Channel – old Anacortes Box & Lumber Mill site, Port of Anacortes)

o   RI/FS in progress; cleanup slated for 2017/2018

Wyman’s Marina (Guemes Channel – Robinson ’s Cove at U Street, Port of Anacortes)

o   Cleanup completed by Port of Anacortes 2014

o   NFA de-listing review completed 2015

March Point Landfill (aka Whitmarsh Landfill, Skagit County, Texaco, private landowner)

o   RI/FS completed to be released for public comment spring 2016

Quiet Cove (Guemes Channel at Curtis Wharf, Port of Anacortes)

o   Agreed Order in progress, expected soon

o   Remedial Investigation planned for 2016/2017

For more information contact:  Arianne Fernandez, WA Ecology at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[1] Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study determines how much and where contamination is located along with evaluating cleanup alternatives.
[2] NFA – request for No Further Action which may include removal from Ecology’s Hazardous Sites list.

Climate Change in Haiku lecture

Over 100 people attended Friends of Skagit Beaches first lecture of 2016, "Climate Change in Haiku" by Dr. Gregory Johnson on Friday, January 15.  Dr. Johnson distilled the entire United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into 19 illustrated haiku. His work of art provides powerful talking points and a visual guide to understanding this important document.

View the haiku and illustrations on the Sightline website. 

Curtis Wharf - The Heart of the Working Waterfront

Curtis Wharf - The Heart of the Working Waterfront

By Jan Hersey

blog photo of Curtis Wharf ca. 1904, courtesy Anacortes Museum Wally Funk collection

First mapped by Spanish explorers in 1791, the swift, navigable channel between Fidalgo and Guemes islands has long been the heart of the Anacortes working waterfront.

The channel’s deep, natural harbor spurred Anacortes’ dream of becoming a major northwest maritime terminal, and the waterfront quickly became the nexus of local commerce, governing the flow of goods to and from the city.

By the early 1900s, the busy shoreline hosted lumber mills, salmon canneries, ferry landings, the fishing fleet, and a “Mosquito Fleet” of small fishing and workboats.

Guemes ChannelShorelinemap1923

Guemes channel shoreline map ca. 1923 (cropped) courtesy of Anacortes Museum

In 1905, at the northernmost end of O Avenue, Melville Curtis (1849–1925), brother-in-law of Anacortes founder Amos Bowman, built “Curtis Wharf” on Guemes Channel. It quickly became an anchor for the city’s growth. There, Curtis established a coal and builders supply as well as the Anacortes Ice Company—providing essential ingredients for a growing city. A shipping dock and variety of waterfront businesses followed, including the American Express office, Standard Oil office (now American Gold Seafood), and the international Black Ball Ferry terminal.

Port of Anacortes logoWhen it was established in 1926 to preserve shoreline access for local interests, the Port of Anacortes began buying waterfront properties and tidelands, developing a shoreline infrastructure, and leasing properties to maritime and related businesses.

During the 1900s, Curtis Wharf itself hosted a café, grocery, Guemes ferry landing, sand and gravel business, and street car station. Having fallen into disrepair, however, in September 1992, Curtis Wharf facilities were demolished after efforts to preserve it failed. The original property now hosts a seafood plant and Puget Sound Rope. Just to the west of the original structures, a new area bearing the name “Curtis Wharf” was constructed. This is now an international marine terminal where you’ll find cruise ships and other large working vessels docked.

Environmental impacts

Another story, however, follows the property timeline, as well. Over time, and lacking attention to industry’s impact on the surrounding ecosystems, chemicals and wastes from this century of “progress” at Curtis Wharf and along Fidalgo’s northern and eastern shores came to pose a threat to the health the marine ecosystem and to local citizens.

Enter the Washington Department of Ecology’s Anacortes Bay-wide Cleanup of Guemes Channel and Fidalgo Bay. Beginning in 2007, a successful merger of public and private interests brought together the DOE, the port and city of Anacortes, and other entities to restore and enhance much of the Anacortes waterfront—including the Curtis Wharf area and Seafarers’ Memorial Park.

Today, with pollutants removed and/or contained, the Railroad Avenue beach adjacent to Curtis Wharf was restored, pedestrian access developed, and an appealing visual link of plants and lighting created between the beach and uplands. Passengers disembarking from the American Spirit cruise ship that docks at the new Curtis Wharf find an attractive link into historic downtown Anacortes.

Curtis Warf aerial

Aerial photo courtesy Joe Kunzler

And shoreline improvements continue. South of Curtis Wharf, the Quiet Cove property was purchased by the port in 2013; it surrounds O Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets.  In 2015, the Port purchased adjacent property on Commercial that includes the iconic Marine Supply and Hardware store. This new acquisition is currently undergoing evaluation for redevelopment to expand the port’s facilities and attract new business to Anacortes.

What would Curtis think?

Curtis Warf American Express Office

Curtis Wharf & American Express Office ca. 1904 (Melville Curtis second from left), courtesy Anacortes Museum’s Wally Funk Collection

In addition to his commercial efforts, Melville Curtis served two terms as Anacortes mayor, eight years on the city council, and sat on the Anacortes Parks board from its inception. He “sold” the Cap Sante headland to the city for one hundred dollars, naming it for a similar rocky outcrop in Quebec where he had spent much of his youth. On the day of his funeral in March 1925, the Anacortes American reported "offices, stores, banks and city hall, commerce and industry halted to pay tribute to the memory of the pioneer who had passed." This civic and environmentally minded entrepreneur would likely be proud of the progress that continues in his name.