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Skagit River debris still being removed after last winter's storms

Nearly nine months after November's widespread floods, workers are still removing logjams.

SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. — It’s like a rodeo on the river.

This week, a team of workers with ropes and motorboats is on the Skagit River wrangling logs instead of livestock. For about three days the crew will work to take apart a 40-foot logjam that has formed at the river and the Highway 9 Bridge.

Skagit County Public Works Project Manager David Walde describes it as a different sort of pastime.

"It’s kind of like a game of Jenga," he said.

A game of reverse Jenga, to be more specific. In this game, the goal is to find the one piece of wood that pulls the enormous pile apart.

The crew, from Gig Harbor's Massana Construction, ties ropes to trees that have gotten stuck along a now-abandoned railroad bridge. They tie the other end to an old military surplus boat to yank them free.

The woodpile is a massive reminder of November 2021's floods that swept away whatever was in their path.

The old railroad bridge has been a trouble spot for logjams for generations.

Leaving the pile would likely attract even more trees and cause bigger problems when the next flood comes.

"It could potentially push the water over the highway, or worst-case scenario, would be scouring the bank and eating into the roadway," said Walde.

Once freed, the trees are sent floating one-by-one downriver, which raises the question: won't they just get caught on the next bridge?

Walde said the answer is -- sometimes -- but it's all part of a bigger plan to protect the environment.

"In years past, we used to pull it all out and cut it up for firewood and whatnot, but fish policies have changed," he said. "It's considered habitat now so we release it and let it float down to wherever it ends up downstream."

Skagit County spends about $70,000 every time it has to do a cleanup like this one, which is about once per year.

The county has considered tearing the old bridge down, but Walde said that cost was estimated at $2 million back in 2013.

So, the relentless river battle continues – a rodeo that will likely be run for many more years to come.

"It all depends on what the river brings down," said Walde.

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