POPLAR ISLAND – Squatting on a muddy, slippery bank with a group of schoolchildren, Maryland’s governor planted clumps of sea grass into small holes by a shallow marsh pool.
“These’ll stay here forever,” Gov. Parris Glendening told the children around him Tuesday. “Fish, birds, everything else will come around here.”
The planting was both symbolic and substantive, a contribution to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay’s Poplar Island, which eroded over the course of the last century from more than 1,000 acres to as few as four. Glendening has been instrumental in efforts to literally reconstruct the island, which is a few miles west of Sherwood, using dredge material from shipping channels into Baltimore Harbor.
Glendening joshed that he was the “environmental governor of the world,” and praised the positive results of the federal-state collaboration on Poplar Island that both protects the environment and improves the state’s economy by cleaning up waterways.
“I’m very excited about it. So many people tell me you have to sacrifice” either the economy or the environment, he said. “That’s wrong, and we’re showing that it’s wrong.”
The governor’s term, which ends in January, has often been characterized by his environmental activism, drawing both praise and criticism for the time and money he has chosen to devote to such causes.
“This has been one of his themes throughout his term, that economic development and the environment are not mutually exclusive,” said Glendening’s press secretary, Chuck Porcari, who accompanied the governor on his two-hour tour of the island. “Poplar Island is not just a national model, but a world model” for that principle.
At the muddy pool, the governor and seventh- and eighth-graders from Centreville Middle School in Queen Anne’s County also released a cluster of baby diamondback terrapins – about two inches from head to tail – into the water.
The terrapins paddled through the pool and clambered up the slope into the marsh grasses. Their new home is an unfinished, treeless landscape of sand and mud piled with cone-shaped earthen heaps being used for restoration and shallow pools in open mud flats.
Some of the island still looks barren. Other areas show more progress, with grassy habitats for gulls, cormorants, terns and snowy egrets, among others.
Poplar Island’s restoration, a $340 million project, began in 2001 after years of planning. The island has been restored to its original 1,140-acre “footprint.” The next phase, lasting about eight years, will return the landscape to a wildlife refuge.
The material being used to restore the island consists of sand, silt and clay dredged from access channels in the bay servicing the Port of Baltimore, said dredge technician Dan Joyavi.
The material can block access for the big cargo ships that provide thousands of Maryland jobs.
Restoring the island replenishes lost habitat and boosts the shipping economy, said Glendening.
“Maryland is really showing that you can aggressively lead the nation in terms of economic growth, and at the same time be a national leader in the environment,” he said. Glendening answered criticism of the use of dredge material, which “no one wants . . . in their backyard,” saying it is “the same quality and texture as most of Maryland’s beaches.” – 30 – CNS-9-24-02