Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Shields not needed to armor this beach

By Bryn Vander Stoep

When we think of beaches, we might think of sand, swimming and marine life. Armor isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind, but it's an important word to remember as we work to create safe environments for those who use our shorelines.

Take our restoration project happening now near the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal at the southern end of Vashon Island. A team of engineers and contractors are restoring 700 feet of shoreline, which will allow for fish passage to nearly 5,000 feet of stream through Tahlequah Creek and more habitat for forage fish. Forage fish feed salmon which in turn feed our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

No, we're not using shields and swords to armor the beach. Our process is a little more modern.

A look at Tahlequah Beach in winter 2019, before restoration work began

Bulkheads along the shoreline protect the ferry terminal and nearby properties but are aging, eroding and don't align with our environmental efforts so they need to be replaced. With the help of local experts from the Vashon Nature Conservancy and specialists from King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, our team is stabilizing the shoreline in an environmentally friendly way to keep the environment safe for everyone.

But where does the armor come in? Good question.

Our crews are also removing creosote-coated timber and concrete bulkheads from the beach, placing new rock, and are planning to restore native vegetation that will protect and enhance the upper beach habitat. What's this process called? You guessed it: Soft-shore armoring. And as you can see, armoring our beaches throughout Puget Sound will impact generations of beach and shoreline users.

Creosote pilings being removed from the beach as part of restoration work

This work is being done as part of our 2021-2023 Washington State Ferries Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) (PDF 2MB). The plan includes goals related to reducing emissions with hybrid electric technology, incorporating the most current environmental practices into our terminal and vessel maintenance, and promoting biodiversity.

A look at shoreline armoring at Tahlequah Beach. Adding material to the beach will also protect Southwest Tahlequah Road

In fact, we've installed an underwater livestream marine camera at our Tahlequah terminal for scientists and volunteers to monitor the effects of this project.

As we look toward the future, we are committed to finding the greenest route for our ferries service. We will continue to implement the actions outlined in the sustainability plan and keep our customers updated on how we plan to remain the nation's most sustainable ferry system.