Thurston County’s efforts to increase access to habitat for spawning salmon and other anadromous fish was honored by the American Public Works Association, which awarded the county with both a state chapter and national APWA Project of the Year award.

The county’s five-site Fish Passage Enhancement Program project was chosen as the winner in the environment category, for projects with a budget of $5 million or less. It marks the first time the county will receive the national award.

“I am exceedingly proud of what our public works staff have accomplished in such a short period of time with this program,” stated Thurston County Commissioner John Hutchings. “They have opened more than seven miles of fish habitat that had been blocked for decades. Last year we got to see the first salmon swim up-stream in more than 100 years at a creek running under Hunter Point Road near Steamboat Island.”

Hutchings joined county administrative and Public Works staff in acceptance of the state chapter award on April 25 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center in Tacoma. The national award will be given in September during the APWA National Conference, PWX, in Seattle.

The primary goal of the Fish Passage Enhancement Program is to increase access to habitat for spawning salmon and other anadromous fish by replacing fish blocking culverts on county owned roadways. The Board of County Commissioners directed Public Works to develop the program in 2016 after reviewing the damaging environmental impacts of fish blocking culverts, and the challenges Washington state faced managing and replacing culverts on state roadways.

The project included the removal of fish blocking culverts, the creation of stream bed improvements and construction of new fish passable structures at five sites. Program coordinators created a matrix that prioritizes culvert replacement, maximizing the total amount of fish habitat gained from the project. They also kept costs low by using prefabricated structures.