On Monday, Thurston County broke ground on the first of its five fish passage barrier removals, a 2018 project that has gotten statewide attention and is scheduled for completion by November.

The $4 million project, which was approved by the Board of Commissioners in March and will be taken from a portion of the Real Estate Excise Tax, began at Hunter Point Road near Steamboat Island, as it was deemed “the most critical of the fish passage barriers in the county.” The barrier is being replaced with a bridge that will allow for the natural passage of salmon and other fish.

The exact number of county-owned fish barriers is unknown, but officials estimate there to be around 336. Public Works staff worked with members of the Squaxin, Chehalis, and Nisqually tribes to get their input on which barriers should be prioritized for the project.

Squaxin Island Tribal Council Chairman Arnold Cooper, along with other tribal leaders, was present for the ground breaking as a show of support.

“Working together is the only way we can get stuff like this done. It’s not just us,” he said. “It’s a joint effort, team work. That’s the way I look at it. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, (these projects) benefit everyone. It’s important to be part of the solution and not the problem, because the importance of salmon is critical for everyone. We’re helping generations down the road.”