Wildlife refuge to reopen after $31M restoration project

WASHOUGAL, Wash. (AP) — The largest habitat restoration project along the lower Columbia River is coming to a close this spring.

The Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, east of Washougal in Clark County, is slated to reopen May 1 after almost two years of being intermittently closed to the public.

The roughly $31 million project to decrease flooding and increase salmon and steelhead migration was funded, in part, by the Bonneville Power Administration, the Washington Department of Ecology, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Updates included removing a levee that separated the Columbia River from nearby Gibbons Creek, which officials say reopened a natural pathway for salmon and steelhead migration and will prevent the creek from flooding, the Daily News reported.

Before removing the levee, fish could only bypass the embankment through a fish ladder, which is a series of pools built to allow fish to swim over obstacles like dams. The fish ladder was removed.

The levee was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s to prevent the Columbia River from flooding the refuge. However, it exacerbated Gibbons Creek’s flooding, which often spilled into the Port of Camas-Washougal property.