How stray logs in Puget Sound turn industrial shorelines green

By David Gutman, Seattle Times staff reporter


POSSESSION SOUND — Squinting out the windowed wheelhouse of the ship he’s helmed for two decades, Captain Skip Green spots something several hundred yards in the distance. 

“See that little black line?” he says, binoculars at hand. 

A half-mile or so out, it’s little more than a speck on the horizon off Whidbey Island. But it’s also the reason Green, his four-man crew and their 104-foot, 174-gross ton vessel are searching the waters of Puget Sound. 

It’s a log. 

A dead floating tree. 

It doesn’t look like much and it’s not glamorous, but it is a hazard — it could sink a weekend fishing boat, batter a pier or ding the half-million-dollar propeller on a cargo ship carrying 14,000 shipping containers. 

Green and his team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are on the water four days a week, tasked with keeping Puget Sound — and its shipping lanes, ferry routes, naval bases, ports and beaches — navigable and clear of debris.

They patrol the waters from Blaine to Olympia in the M/V Puget, a World War II-era service derrick equipped with a 70-foot crane to haul logs, pilings, booms and all manner of flotsam and detritus out of the water.

The logs enter the Sound on flooded rivers and king tides, washed off banks and shorelines by ever-rising and receding eddies and currents. 

Once gathered by the Puget crew, most will eventually return to riverbanks and shorelines. It’s a tidy little dance of intergovernmental holism. 

The logs will help restore tiny portions of our environmentally degraded waterways to their former splendor, nurturing plant life and providing valuable habitat and protection for migrating salmon. 

In Seattle’s South Park neighborhood, the just-completed Duwamish River People’s Park is the final resting place for 900 of the largest logs Green and crew have collected over nearly a decade. At a bend in the Duwamish, across the waterway from Boeing Field, the Port of Seattle has turned a Superfund site of gravel and concrete into 14 acres of restored marshland and nearly a mile of green, living riverbank.

It is the largest habitat restoration site ever constructed in Elliott Bay, and it is anchored by, and built upon, the floating, natural garbage Green and crew have pulled out of Puget Sound. 

“A valuable resource”

It was a couple of decades ago when George Blomberg, an environmental program manager with the Port of Seattle, saw the M/V Puget out doing its work in the Sound.

At the time, the Corps of Engineers would turn anything usable into lumber or wood fuel pellets, but much of the wood ended up hauled off to a landfill in Oregon. 

“I saw the snag boat,” Blomberg recalled, “And I thought if the Port could receive the material, it would be a valuable resource and they would avoid the disposal costs…”