By Mary Maushard
From eagles nesting in Masonville Cove to plans for restoring eroding islands off Dorchester County, from new diesel trucks with fewer emissions to Baltimore City and County neighborhoods with more trees, the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) spread its wings wide in 2019 and had quite a year on the environmental front.
The Port once again racked up impressive numbers in cargo, handling 43.6 million tons and continuing to make the economic engine roar. Humming right along with it were all the environmental programs that ensure the Port’s long-term sustainability and foster its good-neighbor approach.
Last year, eagles landed at Masonville Cove in time to build a nest and cause quite a stir. It was the first time since the restoration of the urban wildlife reserve began in 2007 that a pair of bald eagles took up residence in Baltimore. In spring, two eaglets were born. Again this year, the adults have been observed at Masonville building and guarding the nest.
The Mid-Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration Project has been initiated, modeled after the highly successful Poplar Island Ecosystem Restoration Project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, MDOT MPA and Maryland Environmental Service have begun pre-construction engineering and design. The project will restore approximately 2,144 acres of remote island habitat, including 1,212 acres of tidal wetlands; protect the existing island remnants and habitats; and lower the impact of shoreline erosion.
Decade of Dedication
Masonville Cove had a big year all around, celebrating its 10th anniversary as a restored public space and environmental center.
Once a residential area and recreational waterfront, Masonville Cove was abandoned as both and became a dumping ground. In 2004, MDOT MPA began to restore and preserve the area as part of the mitigation and community enhancements associated with the adjacent Masonville Dredged Material Containment Facility, used for the placement of material dredged from the harbor channels to keep shipping lanes open.
Now the area is an urban wildlife refuge with an environmental education center, trails, waterfront, birding hot spot and home to Captain Trash Wheel. Masonville Cove welcomed 561 visitors to its 14 special anniversary events, many during extended hours on first Thursdays of each month.
Improving air quality and reducing emissions from diesel-operated equipment continues to be a major priority for the Port. Initiatives such as the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grant program have been beneficial in helping the Port meet that goal.
For the second year in a row, MDOT MPA received a competitive grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019 to replace cargo-hauling equipment and upgrade the dray trucks that transport cargo to and from the terminals.
This grant provides $1.8 million to replace up to 44 dray trucks and four pieces of cargo-hauling equipment and is anticipated to result in a lifetime emission reduction of approximately 14 tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), 290 tons of nitrogen oxides, 96 tons of carbon monoxide and 15 tons of hydrocarbons.
The federal grant complements the Port’s Diesel Equipment Upgrade Program, which also focuses on retrofitting or replacing older equipment to reduce emissions. Since beginning this upgrade program in 2008, MDOT MPA has replaced more than 215 dray trucks and 110 pieces of cargo-hauling equipment, repowered 10 marine engines and retrofitted 16 locomotive engines.
A number of projects contributed to the Port’s water quality efforts in 2019:
- An innovative underground sand filter was completed at the Fairfield Marine Terminal to absorb and treat runoff from nearly 14 acres, including 7 acres of new terminal that will help to accommodate increasing cargo shipments. The sand filter completes a multi-project $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant.
- MDOT MPA helped to construct stormwater restoration projects at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to stop erosion and improve the quality of water that flows into the Jones Falls and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. The project also included installing interpretive signs that will be seen by thousands of visitors each year.
- Arlington Echo, an environmental education center operated by Anne Arundel County Public Schools, has a new living shoreline, thanks to funding from MDOT MPA. Replacing a wooden bulkhead with a soft shoreline reduces erosion and roughly 5,000 native wetland plants helped make the shoreline a welcoming habitat for small fish and other water creatures. Nearly 8,000 students will visit the living shoreline each year.
- The Trash Wheel trio — Mister, Professor and Captain — continued to be successful, picking up tons of trash from area waterways, being goodwill ambassadors for clean water and maintaining their popularity on social media.
- MDOT MPA provided a $500,000 grant to support Fleming Park in the neighboring community of Turner Station. Improvements at Fleming Park include public recreation areas with open fields, walking trails that will allow visitors to observe birds and other wildlife, and a boardwalk providing access to the Patapsco River. The effects from rising water levels may be mitigated through the restoration of 2,600 feet of shoreline using dredged material.
Trees are integral to both clean water and clean air, as they help prevent erosion and intercept stormwater to prevent pollution in local waterways. They also absorb carbon dioxide to help clear the air and provide beauty and shade to local neighborhoods.
In a partnership with Blue Water Baltimore, MDOT MPA has planted 1,500 trees in Baltimore since 2017 to improve the urban tree canopy. Through this Urban Forestry Partnership, volunteers have planted trees in Cherry Hill, Brooklyn, Belair-Edison, Clifton Park, Highlandtown, along Route 40, and, most recently, along Broening Highway, one of the main thoroughfares to the Port.
The Port is committed to being a good neighbor to its nearby communities. Neighborliness often starts with getting acquainted. The Port and affiliated organizations reach out often to those who live and work nearby.
MDOT MPA and its partners hosted 499 events attended by more than 18,000 people in 2019. Additionally, 2,142 people visited the south cell grounds at Hart-Miller Island for camping, boating, hiking, birding and other outdoor activities.
In addition, Port partners regularly pitch in on projects around the area. For example, when East Baltimore’s C.A.R.E. Community Association needed additional storage space for its community garden supplies and equipment, the Baltimore Port Alliance (BPA) and Ports America Chesapeake arranged for a surplus 20-foot shipping container to be refurbished and moved to the Madeira Street Garden for use as a storage shed.
Volunteers also worked with St. Helena’s Community on installing ceiling tiles at its community center and dug into the Filbert Street Garden last spring to move mulch and prepare the garden for planting.
The Port participated in organizing the BPA’s first Career & Hiring Expo, which attracted more than 215 job seekers and more than 30 Port-related employers. Several exhibitors were able to conduct on-site interviews with potential candidates. A second career and hiring event is currently being planned for fall 2020.
MDOT MPA is committed to outreach to Baltimore neighborhoods to talk about Port issues and learn about community interests. The Port hosted tours for stakeholders in May and November, with nearly 40 members of local communities, non-profit organizations and environmental agencies attending. The tours helped to provide valuable insight into how the marine terminals operate, and connected members of the community with knowledgeable Port personnel.
Environmental projects often provide their own rewards — in clean air and water, trash-free communities and flourishing trees and gardens — but it is nice to be recognized as well.
The American Association of Port Authorities gave its 2019 Award of Distinction in Stakeholder Awareness, Education and Involvement to MDOT MPA for its 10-year commitment to the Masonville Cove restoration project.
The Secretary of Transportation’s office announced an MDOT Environmental Excellence Sustainability Award for MDOT MPA and MDOT Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) for a partnership to reuse surplus soil. The undertaking saved the State $4 million, preserved landfill capacity and opened more public green space at Masonville Cove.