The Mid-Bay islands will be gradually filled back in to create habitat and erosion protection for Dorchester County. Photo: Maryland Port Administration

Md. Gets $37 Million to Rebuild Islands with Dredged Sediment

Maryland’s plan to rebuild two disappearing Eastern Shore islands gets a big boost with an influx of $37.5 million federal dollars, just allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration plans to follow up its highly successful restoration of Poplar Island, using dredged sediment from the port channels to build the island back up. This time, they will rebuild James and Barren islands off the shores of Dorchester County.

The $37.5 million was allocated in the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Supplemental FY 2022 Workplan for the work that will begin in September 2022, known as the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration project. Once it project gets well underway, the islands will eventually replace Poplar Island as the state’s primary receiving site for dredged sediment from the Bay channel.

“Dredging is an ongoing necessity for Maryland’s Port of Baltimore to accommodate the huge ships that deliver cargo, keep our supply chain open and grow our economy,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “With support from Maryland’s congressional delegation and partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this allocation will put sediment from our shipping channels to work restoring long-eroded Chesapeake Bay islands.”

The restoration project will not only restore island habitat for wildlife and Bay life, they will serve as a buffer to protect the vulnerable Dorchester County shoreline from erosion. James Island will consist of 2,072 restored acres, all protected habitat, and breakwaters will be installed to protect the island and nearby seagrass beds. Construction is expected to start in 2024 and engineers estimate the island will have 30 years of capacity for dredged sediment.

Restoration of the smaller Barren Island will begin first, beginning in September and using sediment from nearby shallow-draft channels, rather than the deep shipping channels. The projects boast predicted benefits like 1,300 acres of protected seagrass beds (bringing more fish and crabs), new bird nesting locations, and remote island habitat supporting important species like diamondback terrapins and common terns.

Maryland leaders credit their relationship with the Army Corps with allowing the project to get off the ground. And they hope to set an example for the rest of the world.

“Maryland is an international leader in the beneficial use of dredged material for coastal and island restoration. We are thinking ahead and planning for anticipated climate changes by strengthening our barrier islands,” says the Maryland ports Executive Director William P. Doyle

In addition to the funds for the James and Barren island project, the Army Corps of Engineers workplan also includes $2.1 million for dredging and surveys at Herring Bay and Rockhold Creek in Anne Arundel County; $2.4 million for dredging and surveys for North East River in Cecil County; and $50,000 for engineer surveys for Slaughter Creek in Dorchester County.

-Meg Walburn Viviano