A Seattle environmental company is proposing to jump-start restoration of the gritty Duwamish River Superfund site by spending private money...

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A Seattle environmental company is proposing to jump-start restoration of the gritty Duwamish River Superfund site by spending private money to make it more salmon-friendly.

The firm, Bluefield Holdings, has struck a deal with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to lease and restore salmon habitat at seven city-owned parcels on the Duwamish.

The company would then potentially sell “restoration credits” to polluters that are on the hook under Superfund laws to transform the city’s industrial waterway.

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Nickels was scheduled to announce the deal from a boat on the Duwamish Thursday, and he is expected to send the proposal to the City Council later this week.

The unique deal — if it is agreed upon by a complex web of state, federal and tribal agencies — could accelerate the usually glacial pace of habitat restoration required by the Superfund cleanup by at least a decade, said B.J. Cummings, the director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.

“I don’t think the salmon can wait 10 more years,” she said.

It would be a good deal for the city, said Nickels’ spokesman, Alex Fryer. The 15,000 salmon that swim the Duwamish would be aided at no cost to taxpayers.

“We see this as way to do habitat restoration that we have neither the financial resources or expertise to do ourselves,” Fryer said.

Bluefield Holdings is a private “eco-development” company founded in 2005 with headquarters in Seattle and an office in New Jersey. It is funded by pension funds seeking “green” projects, said company spokeswoman Barbara Smith.

She would not disclose the amount of the company’s potential investment, but said the project was “fully funded.”

The Duwamish River, once free-flowing and full of salmon, had degraded over the 20th century into an industrial sewer.

It was declared a Superfund site in 2001, a designation that requires its primary polluters to pay for cleanup and restoration.

The cleanup phase is not scheduled to begin until 2012, and the tab for each of the polluters — at least 100 of them thus far — has not been tallied.

But there is no reason that the less-known second phase of the Superfund law — restoration of polluted habitat — cannot happen more quickly, Cummings said.

Under Superfund law, landowners who cannot restore habit on their individual properties can buy credits for restoration of other properties.

Bluefield proposes studying the restoration potential for the city-owned properties — Seattle City Light land, transmission easements, and dead ends of streets — with an eye toward selling such credits.

Using that money, Bluefield would endow a long-term maintenance fund, ensuring that city money would not have to be committed in the future.

The company’s Smith said any restoration plans would have be approved by a group of federal, state and tribal trustees charged with ensuring the habitat would be good for fish.

“You can build salmon habit coexistent with industry,” Smith said.

Bluefield is also talking to other public and private landowners along the Duwamish, she said.

While it is now impossible that the Duwamish will ever return to its natural state, Cummings said restoration of the city-owned properties and other parcels would at least give salmon beds of shaded eel grass and gravelly riverbed that they need.

Good restoration would likely include tearing out concrete bulkheads and huge rocky embankments to restore naturally sloping banks.

“It’s a creative approach,” Cummings said.

“What we’re hoping it will do is get us habitat restoration on the river sooner rather than later.”

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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