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Way Downstream …(Aug. 29-Sept. 5, 2019)

Vanishing islands to be restored from Baltimore Harbor dredging

      Since Bay Weekly was young in the 1990s, we have watched as fast-disappearing Poplar Island, a getaway for Franklin Roosevelt, was rebuilt with the dredge spoils form Baltimore Harbor. Over the years, 34 million cubic yards of materials from the harbor bottoms have dramatically expanded the landmass off Tilghman Island, and we’re told now that the project is about done.

            Up front, we’ve been suspicious of the project given the presence of contaminants on the harbor floor from the decades when Baltimore’s heavy industry flushed away its chemicals and heavy metals with no regard for the environment. But we’re told that restoring habitat in the Bay makes it all worthwhile.

            Now, in a project nearly three times as large as the Poplar Island restoration, James Island and Barren Island — two more mid-Bay islands nearby similarly victimized by erosion and climate change — are scheduled to start getting the Baltimore spoils in a plan announced last week by the Maryland Port Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers.

            Gov. Larry Hogan is trumpeting the deal, saying it “benefits our economy and our most important natural asset, the Chesapeake Bay.”

            Most of the action will take place at James Island, where 2,072 acres would be restored in a project the Army Corps likens to the Poplar Island reconstruction.

            A corps news release previews the scale of this massive project: “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.”

            That’s a lot of barges bearing a lot of gunk down Chesapeake Bay.