Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Proposal Advances to Deposit Port of Baltimore Dredge Spoils on Chesapeake Bay’s Barren, James Islands

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

Federal and state officials agreed on a plan to launch design and engineering work this year to restore Barren and James islands. The islands and others around 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 key in 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, Sen. Chris Van Hollen said. 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,” Van Hollen said.

They 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 recently struck to spend $125 million in federal grants on reconstruction of the 125-year-old Howard Street Tunnel, allowing double-stacked 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,” 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 Hart-Miller Island 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. 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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Army Corps, Maryland Port Administration sign agreement moving Chesapeake island restoration forward

Story by Christopher Gardner, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District

Photo By Christopher Gardner | Image shows recommended plan for James Island as part of the larger Mid-Chesapeake Bay...

BALTIMORE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, and the Maryland Port Administration have signed a Design Agreement that allows for the next steps in restoring two severely degraded islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration Project is a partnership between the Corps of Engineers and the MPA that focuses on restoring and expanding island habitat at James and Barren islands to provide thousands of acres of wetland and terrestrial habitat for fish, shellfish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals through the beneficial use of material dredged from Baltimore Harbor approach channels.

“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 the Maryland Port Administration on this large-scale ecosystem restoration project that will have a significant beneficial impact on the Port of Baltimore and the economy.”

“This agreement between Maryland and the Corps of Engineers benefits our economy and our most important natural asset, the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “The Port of Baltimore is an important economic giant in Maryland and throughout the East Coast. I’m pleased that through this critical dredging project we can assist the Port’s growth while also stemming the tide of erosion at James and Barren islands.”

The recently signed Design Agreement formally allows for the team to begin the complex pre-construction engineering and design phase (PED) of this project, generally referred to as the Mid-Bay Island Project. The PED phase is the last major step before construction.

Over the past several decades, James and Barren islands in western Dorchester County have experienced significant erosion. The Mid-Bay Island Project will involve the restoration of these islands, while designing them to be able to accept clean material dredged from navigation channels. James Island will accept material from channels in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay used by ships going to and from the Port of Baltimore and Barren Island will accept material from nearby shallow-draft channels.

At the larger James Island, the island’s boundaries will be reinforced to prevent erosion, and cells will be delineated within the island where dredged material will be placed over the years to rebuild the island. The process will be very similar to the successful Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island to the north in the Chesapeake Bay. Poplar Island began construction in 1998 and currently accepts dredged material. To date Poplar Island has accepted roughly 34 million cubic yards of material. An expansion of Poplar Island is nearly complete, and will increase its capacity until the Mid-Bay Island Project can accept dredged material.

The recommended Mid-Bay plan consists of constructing environmental restoration projects to restore 2,144 acres of remote island habitat (2,072 acres at James Island and 72 acres at Barren Island). The James Island restoration includes a habitat distribution of 45 percent upland and 55 percent wetland. Barren Island will be restored to 100 percent wetland habitat.

James Island will be able to accept an estimated 90 to 95 million cubic yards of dredged material, which should provide at least 30 years of dredged material placement capacity for maintenance dredging associated with the Port of Baltimore.

The pre-construction engineering and design phase will begin right away, and the first of many construction projects will restore Barren Island and protect it from future erosion. That work is scheduled to begin in 2022 pending the availability of funds, and would be followed two years later by construction of James Island.

For more information about the Mid-Bay Island Project, please visit our web site at: http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Mid-Bay

See also Army Corps, Maryland Port Administration sign agreement moving Chesapeake island restoration forward