WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (Both D-Md.) are urging federal officials to maintain the momentum of their work to restore depleted oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay following a state request to do otherwise, pointing to oysters as crucial components in the Bay’s recovery and ongoing restoration projects in the Tred Avon River as essential to upholding the state’s commitment to the watershed’s health.
The senators today released the text of a letter sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District expressing concern about a recent State of Maryland request to delay the next major phase of project implementation in the Tred Avon, where eight acres of oyster reefs are ready to be restored under a plan that aims to improve almost 150 total acres.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski write: “We were concerned by reports that you were asked by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary last month to delay award of an end-of-the-year contract to build the next eight-acre phase of the planned oyster reef in the Tred Avon River. This largely federal project is a critical piece of and the next step in the state’s commitment to restore oyster populations in five Maryland waterways under the 2014 multi-state Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement with the federal government. This work has been planned in a long and open process, and we understand the Corps made changes to this specific project that were agreed to by all parties as recently as this spring.
“We are concerned by the proposed delay for several reasons. Recognizing that work to rebuild oyster reefs in the Bay has to occur during seasonal windows, even a short delay in award of this contract could delay this reef restoration for more than a year, and delays on this one section of the Tred Avon work could delay the overall project and reduce its cumulative benefits. Given that the Maryland Congressional Delegation worked hard to secure these limited federal dollars at the request of the State, we fear the Corps and other federal agencies may lose use of funds for this critical work, or spend it in other states.
“Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, and particularly plans to restore our native oyster population, has been as well-studied, coordinated and designed as any environmental project in the nation. We understand the DNR request was to delay the Tred Avon project until a study of the first five years of Bay fisheries restoration work is completed this summer. In addition, we have read reports of concerns by some watermen about the materials used and the placement of rocks in previous work. Obviously, we want to see contracts carried out as planned regarding material and placement. Any mistakes should be corrected as soon as possible. And we are all looking forward to the five-year report and its findings, but it was meant to be a snapshot of ongoing long-term efforts, not a report on four-and-a-half years’ work. We fully support efforts by all parties to study and improve restoration practices, but this must happen on a constant and ongoing basis. Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is a long-term undertaking, but one that unites Marylanders like no other.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, includes $1 million for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration program to continue efforts to increase the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay by building new oyster habitat in the Choptank River in a Maryland Department of Natural Resources-designated permanent sanctuary. Once oyster reefs are established, larvae will be carried by the tidal cycle to open-harvest areas for the watermen. Senator Mikulski is Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Cardin is a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.