Washington attorney general appeals culvert ruling

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is appealing a federal ruling ordering the state to fix culverts that block salmon passages.

The state on Tuesday filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the March 29 U.S. District Court ruling by Judge Ricardo S. Martinez that set up a timeline to fix hundreds of culverts around the state.

"The state remains committed to doing more to address fish passage barriers and will continue to do so as resources permit. The implications of the case, however, stretch beyond culverts. Issues of this magnitude deserve full and thoughtful appellate review," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a statement.

State officials have said the ruling could cost billions of dollars - money the state doesn't have.

The Martinez ruling is part of a decades-old legal battle tied to treaties dating back to the mid-1800s. Tribes say the state has blocked salmon passage and contributed to the decline of fish harvests.

More than 20 tribes signed up for the legal action that began, including the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Indian Nation, Tulalip Tribe, Makah Nation and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

Culverts are often built under roadways to allow streams to flow under them.

Martinez ordered the state to fix approximately 180 culverts on recreational lands by 2016 and more than 800 culverts under the Department of Transportation by 2030.

State agencies told lawmakers in April that the ruling would cost more than $2.4 billion. The state could meet the repair deadline imposed by Martinez, if the money is provided

Martinez said in his decision that the tribes have been harmed economically, socially, educationally and culturally because of reduced salmon harvests caused by state barriers that prevent fish passage.

He compared spending on culvert correction with the overall transportation department budget and said the state has the financial ability to accelerate the pace of its fixes over the next several years.