Pro­posal ad­vances to de­posit dredg­ing

Ma­te­rial would go on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s erod­ing Bar­ren and James is­lands

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Scott Dance

A pro­posal is ad­vanc­ing to de­posit dredge spoils from the Port of Bal­ti­more onto two erod­ing Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is­lands.

Fed­eral and state have of­fi­cials agreed on a plan to launch de­sign and engi­neer­ing work this year to re­store Bar­ren and James is­lands. The is­lands off Mary­land’s Eastern Shore and oth­ers in the mid­dle por­tion of the bay have lost 10,500 acres over the past 150 years, ac­cord­ing to the Army Corps of En­gi­neers.

The project is re­garded as key to se­cur­ing the longevity of Bal­ti­more’s port, with rou­tine dredg­ing needed to main­tain a shipping chan­nel deep enough to ac­com­mo­date the world’s largest ocean ves­sels. Mary­land Port Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said more ca­pac­ity for dredge ma­te­rial will be needed as Bal­ti­more’s chan­nels and ship berths are up­graded and main­tained to han­dle more large shipping lin­ers in the com­ing years.

“It’s go­ing to be es­sen­tial to the fu­ture suc­cess of the Port of Bal­ti­more,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Mary­land Demo­crat, said.

The two is­lands would re­place Po­plar Is­land as a de­posit site for port dredge spoils, pro­vid­ing space for as much as 95 mil­lion cu­bic yards of dredge ma­te­rial over 40 years. Po­plar Is­land is ex­pected to reach its ca­pac­ity for the sed­i­ment in 2032.

The port has ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant growth in cargo loads, with a record 43 mil­lion tons of in­ter­na­tional cargo cross­ing state-owned and pri­vate marine ter­mi­nals last year. Port of­fi­cials are hop­ing for more growth af­ter an agree­ment was struck re­cently to spend $125 mil­lion in fed­eral grants on re­con­struc­tion of the 125-year-old Howard Street Tun­nel, al­low­ing dou­blestacked cargo trains to pass be­neath down­town Bal­ti­more.

“In or­der 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,” Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan said in a state­ment. “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.”

Po­plar Is­land restora­tion work be­gan in 1998, amid the sim­i­lar restora­tion of HartMiller Is­land in Bal­ti­more County that was com­pleted in 2012. Hart-Miller Is­land has since be­come home to hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of mi­gra­tory birds and a pop­u­lar state park.

James Is­land was once as large as 1,300 acres, but eroded to less than half that area by the 1990s. It would be re­stored to a size of nearly 2,100 acres. Bar­ren Is­land, al­ready the site of marsh restora­tion work led by the Na­tional Aquar­ium and other groups, would be­come the site of 72 acres of wet­lands.

The engi­neer­ing and de­sign work is set to be­gin right away, Army Corps of­fi­cials said, with $5.8 mil­lion of a $9 mil­lion bud­get for that work al­ready al­lo­cated. Restora­tion work is sched­uled to be­gin on Bar­ren Is­land in 2022, and on James Is­land in 2024.

That depends on timely ap­proval of more fund­ing for what is ex­pected to be a $1.7 bil­lion project over its life­time.

“This is a very im­por­tant mile­stone in this project,” Van Hollen said. “Clearly it has a long way to go, but we’re very fo­cused on mak­ing this hap­pen.”

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