The state-led project utilizing dredged material to restore the habitats and structure of two Chesapeake Bay islands has secured an additional $46.5 million from the federal infrastructure bill, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced Monday.
The money further cements the beginning of the Mid-Bay Ecosystem Restoration project, which hopes to revitalize the vanishing habitats of the James and Barren islands off the Dorchester County coastline.
Replacing Poplar Island in Talbot County as Maryland’s primary site for repurposed sediment, the Dorchester islands will be reinforced with salt and silt from shipping channels in the Bay, giving the project credence as an environmental and economic initiative.
“It’s a big deal to be able to have the continuity of a location where we can put the dredged material for keeping our harbors competitive,” Cardin told a crowd of stakeholders and media.
Shadowed by the Bay Bridge, the senator was joined on Kent Island’s Matapeake Beach by Bill Doyle, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, Col. Estee Pinchasin, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore division, and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
United States Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who worked with Cardin to secure additional Mid-Bay funding, was unable to attend in person.
Acknowledging the “visionary leadership” of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who helped facilitate Poplar Island’s restoration, Cardin said the federal government’s commitment to continue reusing dredged material will foster efficient economic transactions for decades.
According to a Maryland Port Administration fact sheet, the islands can receive dredging reinforcement for 30 years before reaching placement capacity.
“This really is big news,” Cardin said. “It means that when we negotiate with the carriers to come into the Port of Baltimore, they know that for the next several decades, we can handle the dredging and the dredged material in regards to the Port’s activities. This is one thing that’s off the table, as far as any risk factors.”
The cash bump unveiled Monday more than doubles the funding already allocated through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to begin its first phase of construction in September. In February, $37.5 million was earmarked for Mid-Bay in the Corps’ Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Work Plan. Like those funds, this new money — which brings the project’s total to $85 million — will be available to the Corps for use this year.
“A win-win project like this is a remarkable example of what we can do when we take a holistic approach to planning for the future,” Pinchasin said, alluding to climate change and Maryland’s transportation needs. “I feel we are maximizing our experiences and our capabilities to develop and deliver enduring solutions for some of these challenges that lie ahead.”
Projected to cost $1.6 billion, according to a 2009 feasibility study, the Mid-Bay Ecosystem Restoration project aims to create 2,100 acres of new wildlife habitat between the two islands. More than half of that acreage, Pinchasin said, will become wetlands.
Beyond cultivating and protecting environments for local species, the project also seeks to protect Dorchester shorelines from erosion and storm surges.
“This has been a dream. Absolutely a dream,” Maryland Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, said in an interview. “It is a matter of environmental good use. It is a matter of environmental protection, dealing with the changes that we’re seeing. But then also economic because it benefits the port.”
Eckardt said the topic of restoring James and Barren islands has followed her throughout her political career, both as a means of protecting Dorchester’s shoreline and stabilizing its wetlands. The state politician called Monday’s announcement a “real tribute” to Bruce Coulson and the late Joe Coyne, who formed the Dorchester Shoreline Erosion Group in the 1990s dedicated to local shoreline protection.
She commended the pair for trucking past dredging’s unpopular days — moments of uncertainty also spotlighted by Cardin — and helping navigate a solution.
“I didn’t think we would ever see the reality of it,” Eckardt said. “So to think today we’re here not only with some $37 million, but another $46 million in this year’s budget…that’s exciting.”
With the Ever Forward cargo ship planted just north of the Bay Bridge, out of sight from the state’s presentation, the economic need for dredging didn’t need much elaboration. The shipping container which ran aground weeks ago, has made the subject of dredging a popular topic, as efforts to date to free the large vessel have not been successful.
Even so, calling dredging Baltimore’s “lynchpin,” Doyle said the pathways achieved by scouring dredged material support the port’s workers and its operations.
“Dredging is the lifeline of the Port of Baltimore,” the port administration director said. “Simply put, without it, we would not be able to handle most of the ships that come into the Port of Baltimore.”
On Monday, the Ever Forward went into its third week stuck on the Chesapeake Bay.