Chesapeake Bay islands receive $37.5 million grant to combat erosion

A pair of vanishing Chesapeake Bay islands received a $37.5 million grant this week from the Army Corps of Engineers to restore the islands’ ecosystems over the next few years.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration is spearheading the project to rebuild the habitat at James and Barren islands off the coast of Dorchester County.

Scientists will begin working on James Island first in September. Climate change and rising sea levels have exacerbated erosion on the Mid-Bay islands, according to Sara Lazo, a spokesperson with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In the last 150 years or so, it’s been estimated that 10,500 acres of this type of island habitat have been lost in the Chesapeake Bay,” Lazo said. “So, this project is really essential to building that island habitat back up and protecting it from further erosion.”

Engineers will use sediment from the Port of Baltimore’s shipping channels to shore up the Mid-Bay islands’ edges. As a result, the repaired islands will be a boon for Bay wildlife.

“All of that diverse habitat supports resting and nesting sites for migratory and shore birds,” Lazo said. “And also a variety of other Chesapeake Bay critters.”

The Port of Baltimore says the project will open up waterways and allow more large cargo ships that boost the economy, to make their way to Maryland smoothly.

“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 Gov. Larry Hogan.

The Mid-Bay Island Project will eventually replace historic Poplar Island near Talbot County as the state’s primary site for dredged material from the port, Lazo said. Poplar has undergone a similar restoration project.

Years of erosion shriveled the Poplar down to less than 10 acres. But, the island has since been rebuilt with the port’s sediment to its original 1,140 acres.

The larger of the two sites, James Island, will have 2,072 acres restored once the project is complete. And, Barren Island will see more than 70 acres returned.

“It’s really a win-win,” said Lazo. “It supports navigation, the economy but also provides habitat restoration. This project is really essential.”

Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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