A LITTLE-KNOWN fact about state law as it applies to salmon streams: The Department of Fish and Wildlife can force landowners to remove barriers to salmon migration on their property (roughly 250 such obstacles block fish passageways in the Seattle area).
Does the department do it? Hardly ever. Can the city do anything? Yes, it can, says Yes for Seattle, the citizens group that steered a water conservation initiative ,I-63, to victory last year. Last Thursday the group filed Initiative 78, a proposal to force new developments bordering creeks to restore salmon habitat on the property and "daylight" passages of the creek already buried under pavement. If this sounds suspiciously well- designed to confront the city over the proposed expansion of Northgate Mall, the initiative's supporters certainly don't deny that I-78 "takes care of" the Northgate issue. (Activists already sued the developer to prevent more construction on top of a buried portion of Thornton Creek.) I-78 was written, in fact, by the lawyer who represents the Thornton Creek Legal Defense Fund, Knoll Lowney. But the fund's Janet Way says I-78 reaches out to fish lovers across the city. "We know that people all over Seattle not only support Thornton Creek but protections for their own creeks and neighborhoods," says Way.
Lowney says the city never followed through with proposals to toughen rules protecting salmon habitat after the chinook salmon was placed on the EPA's endangered species list in 1999. He says I-78 "will lead toward the strengthening of regulations and removal of loopholes that allow development to proceed even if it's harmful to salmon."
City Council member Margaret Pageler, who frustrated Thornton Creek defenders in March by proposing a resolution that would have helped free the Northgate expansion from public challenges, wouldn't comment on I-78 because as of press time the initiative was technically withdrawn for rewriting. Last year, the city challenged Yes for Seattle's I-63 in court after voters approved it but later settled by passing a similar ordinance through the City Council. Lowney says he'd be happy to see the council follow that strategy this time around if it will get the city moving forward on salmon protection.