What is left of James Island will be the starting point of a new island restoration. Photo: Maryland Port Administration

$43 Million Contract Awarded to Rebuild Disappearing Bay Islands

Riding high off the success of Poplar Island’s long-term restoration using dredged channel sediment, the Army Corps of Engineers has received a $43.1 million contract to restore two more disappearing Bay islands.

The Army Corp’s Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration Project aims to restore critical wildlife habitats.

The $43.1 million was officially awarded at Fort McHenry, with White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, state and federal lawmakers, and Army Corps leaders there to mark the occasion.

The funds (made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) will go toward restoring part of the Mid-Bay, particularly James and Barren Islands near western Dorchester County, Md. To commemorate the occasion, a large rock was signed by the representatives—something that will eventually be moved to the restored islands. 

The rebuilding of these islands has been of interest since 2009 when Executive Order 13508 was signed as a coordinated effort to restore and protect the Bay. In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program Agreement was signed as a way to encourage the revival and maintenance of wildlife and fish habitats in the middle-eastern portion of the Bay, which is believed to have lost over 10,500 acres in the past 150 years. 

The project (referred to as Mid-Bay) aims to restore up to 2,072 acres on James Island and 83 acres on Barren Island. Barren Island is likely to start receiving dredged material from the Honga River by 2024 to build up wetlands and protect current aquatic vegetation beds around it. 

James Island will get over 90-95 million cubic yards of dredged material from the Port of Baltimore beginning in 2030 after proper sill and dike construction is completed in a placement process that will take 28-30 years. By the time the project is done, there will have been over 100 million cubic yards of dredged material transported to these islands in an attempt to reconstruct everything from mudflats to channels. 

The Bay’s health has been a concern for decades but its vanishing land has been one of the most notable aspects. Not only does the disappearance mean the lack of vital wildlife habitats, but it can lead to more coastal flooding because there aren’t natural barriers to stop storm surge.

Dredging has provided many positive outcomes in other Bay island restorations, most notably Hart-Miller which was completed in 2009 and Poplar Island which is scheduled to be done by 2044. Both have seen an influx not only in essential wildlife populations but of recreational boaters and nature lovers as well. 

The restoration of James and Barren Islands will slowly revive these masses to their former glory not only to keep the Bay’s health in check but to ensure future generations stay amazed by its natural wonders. 

-Rachel Kester