The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District announced Feb. 2, 2016, that it has delayed oyster restoration in the Tred Avon River at the request of its non-federal cost-share sponsor, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This federal oyster restoration program requires a non-federal cost-shared sponsor. In this case, the sponsor is Maryland DNR. Maryland DNR requested the Corps delay restoration in this Chesapeake Bay tributary until DNR releases its own progress report in July.
This announcement comes after the Maryland Governor’s Office, Corps, Maryland DNR, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials met the morning of Jan. 28, 2016, to discuss DNR’s request to delay oyster restoration in the Tred Avon River.
This delay affects 8 acres of reef restoration that was part of an initial 24-acre project performed in spring 2015. The remaining 8 acres were not completed in 2015 due to shell shortages and were scheduled to be completed early 2016. This work went through a public review process that involved multiple stakeholders, including watermen. Additionally, the delay will impact 20 - 30 acres of shallow-water reef restoration planned for a contract award in summer 2016 with construction taking place in winter 2016/2017. The Corps still plans to move forward with the completion of an environmental assessment for the 20 - 30 acres and will hold a public meeting later this winter to discuss that work.
This work supports meeting a target of 59 acres of restored reef in the Tred Avon River, as part of the Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan (2012) that was developed in coordination with several federal and state agencies.
This announcement means that Corps oyster reef restoration in the Tred Avon will be delayed at least until fiscal 2017 (federal) due to contract processing times and meeting environmental windows, which would allow work between December 1, 2016, and the end of March 2017.
As a result of this delay, the Baltimore District plans to send a portion of its available oyster restoration funding in 2016 to the Corps’ Norfolk District for Bay restoration in Virginia.
“In July, if DNR affirms its support for oyster restoration in the Tred Avon, we will make every effort to award a contract by the end of this year, so work could proceed next fiscal year,” said Col. Ed Chamberlayne, Baltimore District commander. “If DNR requests that we do not proceed, we have to consider how our currently-available federal funding will best be used – whether that means carrying it over into the next fiscal year or sending additional funds to our sister district in Norfolk to help restore oysters in Virginia’s portion of the Bay.”
Work by the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) to seed some of the constructed reefs in the Tred Avon River is still on track for summer 2016. In total, there are up to 71 acres of existing reef habitat in the Tred Avon River that is suitable for seeding. Interagency monitoring work will also continue.
Through the interagency partnership, the State of Maryland planted more than 2 billion oysters in Harris Creek since 2011 with more than 350 acres of reef restored. Long-term monitoring of specific oyster reefs in Harris Creek has documented densities of 25 oysters per square meter or greater on most of the reef area. Current information, particularly improved spat-on-shell survival documentation by the University of Maryland and videography on restored sites by NOAA seem to support that the investments made in Harris Creek have resulted in healthy oyster populations and reef habitat.
“We are pleased with the preliminary results we are seeing in Harris Creek,” said Chamberlayne. “I was proud to represent the Baltimore District in September in a ceremony marking the completion of reef construction for this Bay tributary, and I hope to be a part of more like it. We continue our commitment to improving the health of the Bay, and we will work hard with our partners and invested members of the public to determine the best path forward to do so.”
Maryland DNR is the non-federal sponsor for the Corps of Engineers’ oyster restoration activities in Maryland. Additional project partners include NOAA and ORP. In addition to the Tred Avon River and Harris Creek, partners have also worked to restore oyster populations in the Little Choptank River.