Rep. Larsen tours estuary and local farm

Event Date:
Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 10:45am

La Conner Weekly News, By Alexander North

Congressman Rick Larsen visited La Conner and Fir Island on Friday, touring Hedlin Farms and the Fir Island Estuary Restoration Project.

“I always tell people you can meet in my office for 15 minutes, or I can come take a field trip and meet you for an hour,” said Larsen.

Larsen, D-Everett, who represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes La Conner, will head to Washington D.C. next week, when Congress will reconvene after summer recess. 

At the Fir Island Estuary Restoration Project, which is located south of Fir Island Road near Conway, Larsen was given a tour of the worksite by members of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, which heads the program, as well as representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Skagit Watershed Council, and the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, amongst others.

The Restoration Project gets around 15 percent of its $16.4 million budget from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Jennifer Quan, special assistant to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Director’s Office. 

The project is intended to convert 131 acres of excess farmland back into estuarine tidal habitat by demolishing a section of the current dike on the southern coast of Fir Island and replacing it with a new dike set about a hundred meters back.

Larsen was shown an overview of the old dike, as well as the new dike, where he observed the installation of pumps designed to remove excess groundwater from a pool located behind the dike.

“They’re also to help deal with tidal surges made higher by climate change,” said Quan.

During the tour, project members made clear that while this project was moving forward, restoration projects in the state were underfunded.

Polly Hicks, a restoration ecologist from the NOAA Restoration Center, pointed out that a lack of state funding has also caused a lack of federal funding.

“It’s easier to ask for federal funds to match state funds,” she said.

While in the last state capital budget, 10 restoration projects recommended by Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council were funded, only one received full funding this year, said Jeanette Dorner, Salmon Recovery Program director for the council.

“The people live here and love it for a reason,” said Richard Brocksmith, executive director of the Skagit Watershed Council, which coordinates environmental projects on the Skagit River.

“We want to keep what we have,” he said.

Following the Restoration Project visit, Congressman Larsen also visited Hedlin Farms, the organic produce farm on the eastern edge of La Conner, where he was given a tour by the owner, Dave Hedlin, who was accompanied by family.

Hedlin explained the current operations of the farm, as well as its history, starting with his grandfather Rasmus Koudal, who came to the valley from North Dakota.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t thank the lord he left North Dakota and came here,” said Hedlin.

Hedlin showed the congress-man the greenhouses, flower operation and asymmetrical barn, and also discussed some of the federal policy that could impact small farmers over the next federal legislative session.

One point Hedlin heavily emphasized was conservation in the Skagit Valley. 

“We call this the magic Skagit here, and we need to preserve this,” he said.

Congressman Larsen said that while the two visits were different, they struck a similar chord.

“He (Hedlin) alluded to this idea that we want a future with birds, and fish, and farms,” said Larsen. 

“We want to make these projects happen to benefit the whole region,” he said.

When asked about the property tax disparities created by the so-called Great Wolf Lodge decision, Larsen said that he had no comment; however, he expressed sympathy regarding the town’s problems.

“Mayor Hayes has been really great to talk to about this,” said Larsen. “I share the town and the district’s concern.”