ANNAPOLIS – The state approved almost $1 million Wednesday to construct breakwaters around Little Deal Island, a move aimed at both saving the Somerset County island and keeping the eroding silt from clogging nearby Wenona Harbor.
The Board of Public Works gave $985,130 to construct seven breakwaters, fill in the island with sand and put plants in marshy areas to stop erosion.
“If we let this island wash away, the harbor will be of no use to anyone,” said Delegate Page Elmore, R-Somerset. “The most important thing is to protect the channel that leads into Wenona Harbor.”
The island, 4 feet above water at its highest point, has dwindled down to 70 feet at its widest point, said Len Casanova, director of Shore Erosion Control Program at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
It will be the second try at preventing the island’s erosion. Jetties built in the 1980s did not work as expected, Elmore said.
That brought questions Wednesday from Comptroller Peter Franchot, who noted that the jetties had not stopped the erosion and voiced concern that the latest effort would be “redundant.”
But breakwaters will better slow the velocity of the water, said Chris Augsburger, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District Office. Unlike a jetty, “instead of shooting straight out, a breakwater can enclose something, or wrap around something,” he said.
County officials hope the improved structures will save money and time spent dredging Wenona Harbor.
Elmore said the county now has to dredge every seven years, as opposed to every 10 years in the past. The federal government does not offer much money to the county for dredging, he said, pushing the county to seek a more permanent fix.
“If this works like the DNR is saying it will work, we may go to 15 years before we have to dredge,” he said.
Low tide in Wenona Harbor has fallen from 4 or 5 feet down to 2.5 feet now, Elmore said. High tide has gone from as high as 8 feet to 4.5 feet, at times preventing the eight to 10 workboats from leaving the harbor.
“I remember when Deal Island was inhabited by watermen,” Somerset County Administrator Daniel Powell told the Board of Public Works meeting. “But we had to leave it to nature, and now Mother Nature is moving fast.”
Only wildlife lives on the island now, Powell said.
Casanova said the marshy, 225-acre island has “good environmental value” and needs to be preserved, by both protecting the shoreline and creating habitats for wildlife.
“People can enjoy this island, for wildlife and fish purposes, and kayaking, boating and photographing,” Casanova said.
“The idea is to preserve the marsh areas as much as possible,” he said. “It’s eroding at less than 2 feet per year, but 2 feet on one side and 2 feet on the other — it’s doubling the disappearance of the island.”