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Rhodes Point on Smith Island Navigation Improvement Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, along with partners the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Somerset County, is working on a navigation improvement project at Rhodes Point on Smith Island. Secondary benefits of the project include protection of the shoreline from erosion and protection and restoration of wetlands in the area.      

This project is being implemented through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Continuing Authorities Program, Section 107, which is for navigation improvement projects. The project is cost shared 90 percent with federal money and 10 percent with non-federal money through Maryland DNR.   

On Sept. 29, 2017, Baltimore District awarded a contract to Coastal Design & Construction Inc., a small business out of Gloucester, Virginia, in the amount of approximately $6.88 million for the project.    

Project construction and dredging will occur sometime between November and April to meet environmental windows. The project should take approximately eight months to complete.



Smith Island is approximately 8 miles west of Crisfield, Maryland, in the Chesapeake Bay. Smith Island consists of several smaller islands separated by shallow tidal creeks or channels called “guts”. Smith Island is sparsely populated and has three small residential fishing communities: Rhodes Point, Ewell, and Tylerton, all accessible only by boat. 

The local area currently supports a fleet of commercial fishing vessels engaged in the harvesting of crabs, oysters, clams and some finfish. The residents of Smith Island depend on waterborne transportation for goods and services including delivery of critical supplies, and for access to schools. The local fleet also supports tourism and the economy. 

What's the Problem?

The communities on Smith Island rely entirely on the channel not just for the delivery of critical goods and services and transportation to schools, but how they support their livelihoods and contribute to the economy. Severe erosion and shoaling in the channel have caused watermen to have to take inconvenient routes around Smith Island to access deeper portions of the Bay, leading to lost time and increased fuel costs. Wetlands on Smith Island are also being lost to erosion. 

What's the Project?

Baltimore District will realign a portion of the federal navigation channel in Sheep Pen Gut through dredging; construct two jetties to prevent shoaling in the channel and to reduce the continual need for dredging of material; and create a stone sill along the shoreline to prevent  further erosion and contain the dredged material from the project. 

This project increases navigational clearance, so boaters don’t run aground due to the shoaling in the area, and it provides boaters from the Smith Island towns of Rhodes Point and Tylerton with more direct access to the Chesapeake Bay. The navigation improvements are anticipated to have long-term beneficial impacts to the local economy, navigation, recreational boaters and safety.

Secondary benefits from the project include shoreline protection and restoration. Native vegetation will be planted on the placed dredged material to restore and enhance about 5 acres of wetlands. In addition, approximately 10 acres of existing wetlands south of the federal channel behind the newly-restored acres will be protected. This will aid the protection of the larger wetland system and provide habitat for local animals and vegetative resources. 


* Click to enlarge images below on the project plan and the dredged material placement plan.  


Project Details: 

  • The federal channel at the mouth of Sheep Pen Gut will be dredged to its authorized level, providing 6 feet of navigational clearance.
  • The realignment will extend the existing authorized channel by approximately 425 feet northwestward, facilitating better access to the Bay. At the conclusion of the project, the federal channel will be 1,900 feet long in total, extending from within the mouth of Sheep Pen Gut into the Chesapeake Bay. The channel will be approximately 50 feet wide from the mouth of Sheep Pen Gut toward the Bay for 1,750 feet. The last 150 feet into the Bay will be approximately 100 feet wide.
  • The north and south jetties will be approximately 1,150 feet and 650 feet long, respectively. Both will be about 50 feet wide at their bases and 6 feet wide at their crests. 
  • The stone sill will be constructed along 850 feet of eroding shoreline south of the mouth of Sheep Pen Gut. It will be 30 feet wide at its base and built to an elevation of 3 feet Mean Lower Low Water. The sill design includes windows or "notches" to allow for interaction between the tide and marsh.
  • Approximately 24,000 cubic yards of clean dredged material from the project, consisting primarily of sand and silt, will be placed behind the stone sill to restore wetlands and increase shoreline resiliency.