OLYMPIA – As part of a joint clean-up effort, 20 members of the U.S. Army Dive Company are taking to the waters of Puget Sound to remove hundreds of old tires located offshore at Saltwater State Park near Des Moines.
Work on the project, sponsored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and coordinated by the Northwest Straits Commission, is scheduled for the third week in August. The tire removal effort helps support the Puget Sound Initiative — a comprehensive effort by local, state, federal and tribal governments, business, agricultural and environmental communities, scientists and the public to restore and protect Puget Sound.
In addition to the dive team, partners involved in the project include the U.S. Army Reserve, the state Department of Ecology, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Washington SCUBA Alliance — a group of recreational divers that first recommended the project at Saltwater State Park.
Plans to remove the tires, which were sunk off the park in the 1970s to create an artificial reef for fish habitat and recreational divers, were already in place when the Army offered assistance, said Greg Bargmann, WDFW marine ecosystem manager.
“The Army was interested in combining training exercises for its dive team with public service projects and contacted us about efforts in Puget Sound,” Bargmann said. “We were already making plans for the tire removal and excited to take them up on the offer.”
Bargmann said the divers, who are based in Fort Eustis, Virginia, are helping at no cost to the state. The Tacoma-based U.S. Army Reserve Water Craft Unit 709th TC (FC) will provide transportation for the divers and will remove and transfer the tires.
WDFW is coordinating the tire-removal project with a grant awarded by the state Department of Ecology, which disperses funds made available by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ecology will also handle final disposal of the tires.
Bargmann estimates that more than 500 tires are sunk in 50-60 feet of water over approximately 55 acres off the shore of Saltwater State Park. The tires were placed there in the 1970s when it was common in the United States to use tires as artificial reefs. Those reefs are now considered environmental hazards and projects are in place across the nation to remove them, Bargmann said.
Once the tires are removed, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is planning to construct a replacement reef, which will be made from rocks, pre-cast concrete post and artificial kelp. The project, designed with help from WDFW, is intended to attract underwater sea life, said Hope Gibson, project manager for State Parks. The building materials will be stable and are made of materials that are environmentally safe, Gibson said.
“This is a great cooperative project and WDFW is very appreciative of the skills, labor and funding provided by these partners,” Bargmann said. “Cleaning up Puget Sound is an immense task and more successes will be possible through joint efforts such as these.”
In addition to contributing to the dive project, Ecology is cleaning up piles of discarded land-based tires across the state. Funded by a $1 fee on each new vehicle replacement tire, the agency’s tire cleanup program has removed more than five million tires from the environment since 2007.
The Army divers will also take part in a project to remove derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound, including Deception Pass State Park, located at the northern end of Whidbey Island, Bargmann said.
“The pass is one of many areas that contain discarded fishing gear, nets and abandoned shrimp and crab pots that are posing significant threats to the marine resources in Puget Sound,” he said.
The Northwest Straits Commission is overseeing the derelict gear removal.
Saltwater State Park is an 88-acre marine camping park with 1,445 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound. The park is located halfway between Tacoma and Seattle.