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Within a few weeks, a concrete seawall dating back more than four decades will start coming down along a nearly a half-mile stretch of Burien shoreline — part of a regional endeavor to return the beach of Seahurst Park to nature.

In place of the armoring, some 18,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel and more than 20,000 marine and riparian plantings soon will appear, helping to replicate the public shoreline’s undeveloped state. And, in the process, habitat for seven species of salmon — including threatened chinook and steelhead trout — will be replenished.

Long in the city of Burien’s plans, the Seahurst Park Shoreline Restoration Project soon will become reality behind roughly $8 million in grants from county, state and federal partners. The project represents a key component in a grander strategy for improving the health of Northwest Washington’s deep inlet of the Pacific.

“This will be the biggest seawall-removal project on Puget Sound,” Steve Roemer, Burien’s parks development and operations manager, said Friday.

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The restoration project also marks a significant step down the path toward an ultimate destination chartered for the region’s marine health: By 2020, the total amount of bulkheads, or shoreline armoring, removed from Puget Sound beaches should exceed the total amount of new armoring being put in place along them.

That target is among the lofty goals set under the so-called Puget Sound Action Agenda — the state’s plan for ultimately cleaning up, restoring and protecting the Northwest’s renowned marine water body.

In their latest ranking of projects seeking funding, regional environmental planners identified Seahurst Park’s shoreline restoration among top priorities for helping to advance the Puget Sound agenda’s overarching recovery mission.

Out of more than seven dozen large capital projects competing for the funding, “this project ranks number three on the priority list,” said Alicia Lawver, spokeswoman for Puget Sound Partnership, the state’s coordinating agency for Puget Sound cleanup.

The Seahurst Park restoration was among only 11 projects awarded “early action” grants during the 2013-2015 Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) Fund, the state program created in 2007 under then-Gov. Chris Gregoire’s initiative to restore Puget Sound.

“They’re ready to go and will be the first one to actually break ground and put these dollars to work,” Lawver said.

Seahurst Park opened in 1975 on 183 waterfront acres with sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, according to the city of Burien’s website. Once prized clam-digging grounds for area tribes, the property came to be owned by Seattle lumber baron Robert Fox before King County eventually eyed, then saved it as parkland.

Burien acquired the regional park from the county in 1994 during an annexation, and with it
inherited the failing — and costly — seawall.

Installed in about 1972, the concrete and rock riprap bulkhead that ran for most of the length of the park’s saltwater shoreline has long separated Seahurst’s beaches from its upland forests, trails and picnic areas. By the early 2000s, with the wall in the park’s southern end in serious disrepair, park officials sought a practical solution.

“The riprap was falling apart, creating a public-safety hazard while degrading the natural shoreline habitat,” Roemer said.

What began as a review of maintenance cost and concerns ultimately led to a master-plan process.

“The city felt the best direction to go — rather than continue to fight and rebuild these things — was to return the beach to its natural state, while enhancing the public access,” Roemer said

A first phase of the project removed about 1,000 feet of seawall from the park’s southern beaches. But finding money to dismantle the remaining 1,800 feet of seawall on Seahurst’s northern end proved trickier.

“We’ve been trying to get this project funded for quite a few years,” Roemer said. “Everything just kind of fell into shape this year.”

With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managing the contract, project funding includes about $3.9 million in federal funds and $4.4 million in state PSAR grants. Additional grants from county, state Department of Fish & Wildlife and federal Environment Protection Agency programs also are part of the funding mix, Roemer said.

Along with dismantling about 1,800 linear feet of the 15-foot-high concrete seawall, the work will restore the shoreline’s natural slope; add gravel, sand and plantings; and create a small estuary supported by three perennial streams. In all, about 2,800 feet of additional shoreline will be returned to a replicated natural state.

The work should help restore offshore habitat for forage fish, including surf smelt and Pacific sand lance, that salmon feed upon, and enhance salmon-rearing habitat.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott and other dignitaries are expected to take part in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, though work likely won’t begin until the end of September, Roemer said. When it does, Seahurst Park essentially will close to the public.

When the park reopens sometime next spring, the public should have an easier time getting to the beach.

“There’ll definitely be improved access,” Roemer said. “It should be a lot more of a pleasant beach experience.”

Lewis Kamb: or 206-652-6611. Twitter: @lewiskamb

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