The project is still in the design phase. An environmental assessment will be made available for public comment sometime in the fall.
Early estimates call for spending around $18 million, Marriott said. The Bonneville Power Administration is funding the project. Doing so helps the federal agency meet its obligations under the Northwest Power Act to mitigate for impacts of federal dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries.
The estuary partnership and the Port of Camas-Washougal are the project sponsors. The partnership hired the engineering firms doing the design and engineering work, but for years it organized volunteer restoration and planting on the site. The port reviews plans and designs and is responsible for long-term operations of the levee system.
The work is meant to restore the natural ebb and flow of water onto the floodplains. It’ll reconnect Gibbons Creek and the Columbia River and the refuge’s adjacent floodplain habitat while still maintaining flood protections for neighboring properties.
By reuniting Steigerwald Lake with the Columbia River, officials hope to better the prospects of Endangered Species Act-listed salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout as well as other native wildlife and plants.
“We like it because we’d have less levee to maintain as well as the cost savings from Gibbons Creek not flowing into our drainage system,” Ripp said.
The Steigerwald restoration is locally significant, but it’s only a small amount of habitat compared to what has disappeared. Since 1870, 114,050 acres of habitat have been lost, including 70 percent of the lower Columbia River’s vegetated tidal wetlands, according to the estuary partnership’s 2015 State of the Estuary report.
It’s not the first time federal agencies have looked to restore Steigerwald. It was considered for restoration between 2010 and 2011, but the work proved too costly.
This time, the parties involved are optimistic for Steigerwald’s future.
“Hopefully we can get there,” Lapp said. “We’ve got a very viable project now; the benefits are massive for fish and the refuge and the community.”