By Mary Maushard
Two long-eroding islands in the Chesapeake Bay are closer to restoration with clean sediment dredged from shipping channels.
The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, recently signed a design agreement that will move James and Barren islands, off the coast of Dorchester County, into the final development phase before construction.
The project, commonly known as the Mid-Bay Island Project, is beginning with the four-year, $9 million engineering and design phase this year, with 65 percent federal funding and 35 percent state dollars. Restoration of Barren Island could begin as early as 2022, with James to follow in 2024.
With sediment dredged from the Port of Baltimore shipping channels and other shallow-draft channels, the remote islands will total 2,144 acres of wetland and terrestrial habitat for fish, shellfish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. This will be a big step toward achieving the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Vital Habitats Goal.
“The Corps of Engineers executes many missions and projects that benefit the nation, including maintaining federal navigation channels and large-scale ecosystem restoration projects,” said Baltimore District Commander Col. John Litz. “We’re proud to partner with MDOT MPA on this … project that will have a significant beneficial impact on the Port of Baltimore and the economy.”
James Island, the larger of the two islands with 2,072 acres, will accommodate an estimated 90 to 95 million cubic yards of dredged materials, providing at least 30 years of capacity. Its boundaries will be reinforced to prevent erosion, and cells within the island will accept dredged materials over the years to rebuild the island.
“To support the economic giant that is the Port of Baltimore, we need to continually dredge our shipping channels to accommodate the massive ships that are carrying more cargo than ever before,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “This important dredging project will also help us stem the tide of erosion to preserve James and Barren islands and protect Dorchester County residents from additional shoreline erosion.”
The Mid-Bay Island Project is similar to the Poplar Island restoration project, off Talbot County, that also used dredged sediment from the Port’s channels. Restoration of that long-eroded island began in 1994 and included a recent expansion resulting in a total of 1,175 acres; the expansion adds capacity for 28 million cubic yards of sediment. An important habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, Poplar Island has become an international model for the beneficial reuse of dredged material.