The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is leading an interagency project to help restore the ecosystem at Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island is a $1.4-billion sustainability project to provide habitat for diamondback terrapins, over 160 bird species, crabs, rockfish and killifish, all native to the area.
Poplar Island, located about 34 miles southeast of Baltimore in Chesapeake Bay, had eroded from more than 1,100 acres in the mid 1800s to a mere four, until the Corps, in partnership with the Maryland Port Administration, began restoring the island two decades ago to its original footprint, using silt dredged from the Baltimore shipping channels.
In order to continue to provide more critical habitat in the mid-Chesapeake and further dredge placement capacity for the bustling Port of Baltimore, the Corps was authorized in 2014 to expand Poplar Island by an additional 575 acres.
Poplar Island is not the typical Corps project and has generated attention for its positive reuse of materials dredged from channels approaching the Port of Baltimore.
“Maintaining the shipping lanes in Baltimore Harbor and its bay channels is of critical importance to both the regional and national economy,” said Baltimore District Commander Col. Ed Chamberlayne.
“Whether it’s vehicles, raw materials or other commodities, residents throughout the region and beyond benefit from the operations at the Port of Baltimore on a regular basis, and that’s why we’re committed to maintaining these channels,” Chamberlayne added.
The material is mechanically dredged at the channel with clam shell buckets, then placed onto a barge, which is transported via tugboat to Poplar Island, said Justin Callahan, the Corps’ project manager. The material is then hydraulically pumped into the island cells.
The work on the project and expansion is done in phases with the dredge placement broken down into island cells. The expansion will eventually take the island to 1,715 acres.
“The project is very different than what the Corps has done in the past with dredge material disposal,” Callahan said. “We are creating an island that hasn’t been this size since the 1840s and restoring a remote island habitat that is critical to migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.”
The dredge material is the foundation and wetland cells developed into marsh and tidal inlets are the surface level that visitors see. The restored habitat at Poplar Island creates the opportunity for the public to learn about the beneficial uses of dredged material, erosion control, water quality, wetlands habitat and species diversity.
Poplar Island is scheduled for completion in 2044.