Saturday, April 11, 2009

Poplar Island Trip

Last weekend, we went down Tilghman Island to check out the Poplar Island dredge materials facility. MES is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Port Administration to rebuild this historic island in the middle Chesapeake Bay. Of course, it was one of the windiest days on the Bay this year. Here's a link from US Fish and Wildlife.

This is the big-arse anchor I can only assume came up from the bottom of the Bay. And the requisite project sign. We're big on signs at MES.

The short, modern story of the island is that it had been whittled down by erosion to about 5 acres from over 1500. The state wanted to do something about it and the materials coming out of the bay channel for heavy shipping needed someplace to go. The Corps, the Port and MES got together and decided to create a new field of science and wetlands restoration. Through adaptive management, the project has thoughtfully fumbled its way to success.

Susan looking out from our Bay-side room at the Marina. The 40 knot winds made for an exciting day.

When the Chesapeake shipping channel gets dredged out, the material gets dumped into a barge. The barge gets pushed over to Poplar. They rig up a few feet of pipe and pump a slurry (90% water, 10% dredge material) into one of the wet cells. The cells are just multi-acre areas of hemmed-in water. After the material gets pumped in and the dirt settles out, they pump out the water and are left with dry land. After a good, hot Summer, the water evaporates and the Corps gets in there and starts testing and prepping the area for construction. It takes a few months to get it laid out, channels cut, grasses planted and open to the Bay for the natural tidal action to create a nice happy animal habitat. Kormorants, terrapins, egrets, blue heron, gulls, osprey, bald eagles, ducks... all the local fauna seem pretty stoked on the wetlands.

Nobody in the world is involved in this level of study and island creation. The 'adaptive management' process allows everyone to learn as they move forward, building on the success of each idea.

Here's another shot out of our West-facing deck at the Marina.

If you want to get involved, you can volunteer to plant grasses in the wetland areas in June through the Baltimore Aquarium. I highly recommend it. It's a great little vacation/day trip with the kids. We went down the night before and stayed at a local marina right on the water with a few restaurants within spitting distance. You could see Poplar from our room. Knapps Narrows was where we stayed and you can walk from the hotel over to the Poplar Island Land Base on Chicken Point Rd. MES operates the land base, the boat to get out to Poplar, all the administrative stuff and the testing. The Corps handles the actual engineering on the project and the Port pays the bills. As you can imagine, there's another dozen or so other agencies down there just to check stuff out including MDE, DNR, CBF for various reasons.

Our MES tour guide. Another important MES function on the island for all of the visitors the island sees.

This last picture gives you an idea of the scope of the work area. Basically, you have all these spits of water bordered by a series of roads. Each cell is its own area during fill but then is cut up into sub-cells after it's full. The foreground is water in the northwestern cell that will be 23 feet above mean low low tide and forested. Still a long way to go on that cell. The foreground road is the southern border of cell one to cell two. The third area of water from top to bottom with the pier is open water. It's part of a private island that used to be owned by the DNC. This is the curve in the kidney-bean-shape of Poplar Island. Center-right and center-top you can see the MES fuel tank complex on the island and an excavator chilling on a barge doing some shore stabilization work.

The St Michael's, Tilghman and Oxford areas of the Eastern Shore are so nice and relaxed. If you haven't made a day trip over there to just chill out and walk around, you should. And if you have a boat, it's an easy day-sail across the Bay. There's plenty of safe harbor and plenty to do. Cycling, kayaking, shopping, drinking... It's not bad!


At 11:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

I question the notion of 'preserving' barrier islands and for that matter coastlines, as a matter of ecological science. Yeah, it's nice to keep the world as they are but preserving a barrier island or a little island in a sound is like trying to preserve a baseball in flight. The natural state of a barrier island (which Tilghman is like) is to be in motion, appearing or disappearing as the tide and storms make it move. It's meant to disappear eventually with the sand and/or silt accumulating somewhere else and building a new barrier island.

That said, I understand and accept man-based reasons for wanting to preserve such things, as well as the need for dredging to keep shipping lanes open and so on. Yet there's always a danger tampering with the way water wants to shape things, and our best intentions to either enhance human uses or nature are often thwarted because we don't realize or accept that nature has its own path and it's way stronger than us. For instance, the ACE has only in the last decade or so figured out that all those oxbows it labored so hard to remove from the Mississippi and other midwestern rivers / transportation routes, served a purpose of controlling flooding and the velocity of the water (a contributing factor to erosion). Now it's trying to figure out how to use them to its advantage, but we've had a lot of floods in the meantime...

So it's never simple, is it.


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