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Clark County Public Works’ $1.4M project to restore Heritage Farm wetlands

By , Columbian staff writer
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The 78th Street Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell will be the site of a $1.4 million wetlands restoration project managed by Clark County Public Works.
The 78th Street Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell will be the site of a $1.4 million wetlands restoration project managed by Clark County Public Works. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Even though construction won’t begin for another two years, area residents got a sneak peek at Clark County Public Works’ proposed 78th Street Heritage Farm wetlands restoration project at a virtual open house Tuesday.

Public Works plans to restore 5 to 6 acres of wetlands on the east and northern portions of the 78th Street Heritage Farm site in Hazel Dell, and add 2 acres of riparian buffer along Cougar Creek. Along with the wetlands work, a storm sewer pipe under access roads will be replaced, and the farm’s gravel driveways will be resurfaced.

The project is estimated to cost $1.4 million, with $500,000 coming from a Department of Ecology grant and $925,000 from the Clean Water Fund.

“The Master Plan calls for the enhancement of the creek corridor and wetland areas. Existing creek crossings will be maintained and used to access the interpretive trail, orchard and agricultural areas,” said Robin Washington, project manager for the Department of Community Development.

Washington said the project will increase the area’s groundwater, enhance stream flow and improve the overall water quality and reduce summer water temperatures in Cougar Creek. In turn, that will benefit Salmon Creek.

“The project site will basically get much wetter. It will have much more wetlands vegetation in the lower areas, more like it was in its natural condition,” Washington added.

The 78th Street Heritage Farm dates back to the 1870s, when Clark County started operating a poor farm along the south side of Northeast 78th Street, once called “poor farm road,” in Hazel Dell. The site was later used as a research and experimental farm by Washington State University Extension before the county resumed managing the property in 2008.

To complete the wetlands restoration, Washington said, an existing sewer line will have to be moved. She said it’s being moved so it’s not accidentally damaged during construction and so any future work at the site wouldn’t have to work around it. The sewer line will be moved north along the edge of the existing parking lot.

The wetlands restoration project could change the setback or buffer zone requirements at the site.

“The Department of Ecology has ratings for wetlands that determine setbacks and buffers. We will have to see what rating is assigned to the project,” said Pam Schense, an environmental mitigation specialist with Public Works.

That rating will come from the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, review. Currently, the area is rated as a Category 4, with Category 1 being the highest and Category 5 being the lowest. Schense said setback can range as low as 40 feet and as high as 200 feet or more. She estimated the Heritage Farm wetlands would fall somewhere between those but that she would on be guessing at this point.

Schense noted the area’s current 35-foot buffer requirement is due to an Ecology grant requirement, which is separate from the SEPA review.

David Stipe, the section manager for Planning and Development, also said there are two types of setbacks in the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

“One of them is for habitat project protection and one is for water quality project protection. We’re working through the conversation with our funding partners and regulatory agencies,” Stipe said.

During the SEPA review, there will be additional opportunities for the public to review and comment on the project, Schense noted.

The project will also be using native plant species, though which plants has yet to be identified.

“The plantings will be native, it will be a combination of shrubs and trees. I believe we will have some emergent plants in the wettest parts of the wetlands areas,” Schense said.

Emergent plants are rooted in the creek bottom, with leaves and stems extending out of the water.

One area of concern for John Contezac, a field meteorologist with the WSU Extension Office, was any changes that would affect the 125-year-old weather station at the farm. Contezac said the station has specific clearance requirements to ensure it records accurate wind measurements and wondered if the new plantings would cause a problem.

Rocky Houston, division manager for Parks and Lands, said the team would have to review the project design and see if any changes were needed to accommodate the weather station’s needs.

As for future developments at Heritage Farm, Houston said impacts from those projects would be reviewed by Public Works to determine if additional setbacks or restrictions would apply.

“We are aware of and considering the future development in that area. At the same time this project doesn’t have the scope to be able to identify and ameliorate any of those potential unknowns.”

The open house meeting can be viewed online at

For more information about the 78th Street Heritage Farm, go to

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