Along a six-acre stretch of the Lafayette River that meanders through the bustle of Norfolk International Terminals, Inc., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is actively constructing a permanent sanctuary home for one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most-endangered inhabitants: the eastern oyster.
The Lafayette River-NIT oyster reef, built with approximately 14,000 cubic yards of fossilized shell, will soon become the fourth in a six-sanctuary, 16-acre permanent oyster reef initiative that the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began last October.
“Six million spat-on-shell oysters, which are baby oysters set on oyster shells in a hatchery, will then be seeded onto the oyster reefs this spring,” said Keith Lockwood, Norfolk District’s Technical Support Section chief.
The sanctuary oyster reefs project is the second phase of a 10-year, $70 million, 411-acre environmental mitigation plan, which is aimed at offsetting the ecological impacts associated with the Corps’ Craney Island Eastward Expansion, or CIEE, project.
The CIEE project, which is expanding Craney Island with dredged material fill that will serve as the base for a new port terminal, is expected to impact the bottom of the Elizabeth River.
The project’s environmental mitigation plan uses a “landscape approach,” which allows all three-habitat elements – wetlands creation, oyster restoration and creation, and remediation of Elizabeth River bottom – to thrive and sustain each other.
The Corps completed first phase of mitigation last November, with an 11-acre wetlands creation project at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth.
The Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers benefit from the second phase, which is aimed at restoring a sustainable oyster population.
After the NIT reef, the Corps will construct one in the western branch of the Elizabeth River at Baines Creek, and one in the southern branch of the river at Blows Creek — the Corps has completed oyster reefs at Hoffler Creek in Portsmouth, Va. and Gilligan Creek in Chesapeake, Va.
Press Release, March 19, 2014