Senators Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) have announced that the Senate has approved legislation which authorizes $350 million in federal funding to ensure the future economic health and strength of the Port of Baltimore and the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay. The funding was included in the comprehensive Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which provides for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make improvements to our Nations rivers, ports, harbors, and other waterways.
Specifically, the bill authorizes a 50% expansion of the Poplar Island environmental restoration project off the shores of Talbot County, providing for additional dredged material capacity for the Port of Baltimore and additional habitat for the Chesapeake Bays wildlife.
The Poplar Island project has proved to be a tremendous success and a model for the nation on how to dispose of dredged material. Instead of the traditional practice of treating dredged material as a waste and dumping it overboard, since 1998 efforts have been underway to put approximately 40 million cubic yards of clean dredged material from the shipping channels leading to the Port of Baltimore into a productive use and over a 25 year period restoring more than 1,100 acres of remote island habitat in the Chesapeake Bay, creating a haven for fish and wildlife and helping reduce sediment degradation of the Bays water quality.
The bill would authorize an additional $256.1 million for the expansion project, enabling the Corps of Engineers to add an additional 28 million cubic yards of dredged material and expand the island habitat by 575 acres. It would also extend the life of the project by 7 years and bring the total cost of the project to over $640 million.
The Port of Baltimore and its shipping channels are vital to the economic well-being of our State, as is the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, said Sarbanes. The Poplar Island environmental restoration project has been a top priority of mine over the years. It has been a win-win project, harmonizing the economic vitality of the Port of Baltimore with improvements to Marylands environmental quality. Through this effort, we are maintaining both the thruways for our shipping channels and recreating wetlands and other habitat for the wildlife and waterfowl of the Chesapeake Bay. I am pleased that this legislation will enable us to move forward with the expansion of this project.
"This bill is a federal investment in the lives and livelihoods that depend on the waterways of Maryland. These projects will help ensure that freight carriers and cruise ships can safely navigate Baltimore's channels so the Port can continue to serve as an important economic engine for Maryland," said Senator Mikulski. "I am proud to work in the Senate with Senator Sarbanes to put money in the federal checkbook that creates jobs and takes care of our environment."
The bill also contains three other provisions authorizing approximately $100 million which are critical to the continuing efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay:
-- It reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Restoration and Protection Program at a cost of $30 million, up from $10 million in the previous reauthorizations. As the lead Federal agency in water resource management, the Corps of Engineers has a vital role to play in helping to restore the Chesapeake Bays water quality and living resources including sewage treatment plant upgrades, making beneficial use of dredge materials, removing impediments to fish passage, mitigating the impacts of shoreline erosion and restoring wetlands, habitat and oyster reefs;
-- $50 million is authorized for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Program for the States of Maryland and Virginia. This is an increase of $20 million over the previous authorization and will help support the Chesapeake 2000s goals of increasing the native oyster population by tenfold by the year 2010; and
-- A new authorization of $14.5 million for environmental restoration projects to help stem the alarming loss of submerged aquatic vegetation and wetlands along the coastline of Martin National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Island, protecting over 700 acres and restoring about 1,400 acres of valuable habitat.
Poplar Island Environmental Restoration Project
Martin National Wildlife Refuge