WASHINGTON – Federal officials are focusing on eight islands in the mid- Chesapeake Bay that could be the next dumping grounds for silt dredged from bay shipping channels.
Barren, Holland, Hooper, James and Ragged islands of Dorchester County and Little Deal, Smith and South Marsh islands of Somerset County are still on a list of islands the Army Corps of Engineers is considering to replace the current dump site, Poplar Island.
The Maryland Port Administration did a similar study and identified James and Barren islands as favored sites last fall, said Jenn Aiosa, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the port administration’s selection committee.
The corps and the port administration are working together on the project and will share the cost.
“It really is a cooperative venture between the state and federal partners,” said Richard Sheckells, the port administration’s director of planning and environment.
The corps planned to hold the first of three public meetings on the issue Thursday in Dorchester County. Another hearing is scheduled Tuesday at Anne Arundel Community College and a third hearing in Queen Anne’s County, delayed by this week’s snow, has yet to be rescheduled.
“Some of these (islands), after the meetings, might fall off the list, just because people might tell us they’re not interested,” said Michele Bistany, the Army Corps of Engineers’ study team leader. “I’d imagine the list will be narrowed down to one or two.”
Bistany said the corps hopes to further narrow the list in the next few months in hopes of replacing Poplar Island, which is expected to reach capacity in about 10 years.
Scott Johnson, the corps’ Poplar Island restoration project manager, said the need to identify a new site is “fairly urgent.” The current hearings are just an early stage in a multiyear selection process, he said.
The corps must still study the remaining islands to evaluate environmental impact, engineering feasibility and cost before it selects a dump site.
The islands under consideration must have been at least 200 acres at one time. Other criteria used by the corps include requirements that the islands not hurt existing navigational routes if used as a dump and that they are surrounded by deep-enough water to ship the dredge there.
Johnson said about 4.5 million cubic yards of sand and mud must be dredged yearly from the bay to keep two shipping channels open.
Once an island is restored it serves as a shield, protecting the shoreline behind it from erosion, he said. At the same time, it can serve as a habitat for plants, birds and animals.
Maryland’s process of selecting a new site has become more involved as a result of legislation passed in 2001 after a plan to dump the dredge in an area of the bay known as Site 104 was blocked, said the bay foundation’s Aiosa.
The foundation and other groups, including the Maryland Watermen’s Association, have not yet taken a position on the sites but are waiting for more research on the islands that get selected.
“We support the idea of rebuilding those islands,” said Larry Simns, president of the watermen’s association. “We will have to look closer at how each (site) would affect local watermen before we give our support.”