Army Corps of Engineers
Dredged material inflow on Poplar Island

Several projects in Maryland could receive kick starts if their authorizations in the new Water Resources Development Act turn into appropriations. Nearly $300 million in project-specific funding is earmarked for state projects, thanks in part to a push by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee member Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Topping the list of Maryland projects in the newly enacted WRDA includes $192 million for the expansion of Poplar Island, an island restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay.

Poplar Island spanned more than 1,000 acres in 1847, but had nearly eroded away 150 years later. Since 1997, the Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Port Administration have led efforts to restore the island using dredged material from the Port of Baltimore. The first two phases, which were built by Kiewit Construction and Skanska, created 570 acres of wetlands and 570 acres of uplands.

WRDA funding would clear the way for a third phase of restoration, creating 575 more acres of wetlands and uplands and also embayment work that would create habitat for larger fish.

Army Corps of Engineers
Dike construction on Poplar Island

Mark Mendelsohn, Corps biologist on the Poplar Island project, says the job would go out as a new bid, but notes that nearly two years of study are expected before construction can begin. The project is scheduled for completion by 2015, assuming Congress approves appropriations.

Even if those federal appropriations are approved, local matching funds, from the Maryland Port Administration still would be needed. The Corps’ Mendelsohn says he expects that state funds will be available once the WRDA funds are released.

“The need to dredge is there,” he says. “We’re confident that the state will come up with the money to make it happen.”

Pete Kotulak, an associate at the Baltimore officer of engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, which has been conducting studies at Poplar since 1994, says that WRDA’s enactment is the last major hurdle for the project.

“We’re happy to get the water bill through,” Kotulak says. “Now it’s just a matter of getting the Corps to agree to the alignments and final design so we can move forward.”

Other Maryland projects in the new WRDA include: $30 million to reduce nitrogen flowing from the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C.; $40 million for other pollution-reduction projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed; $10 million for restoration of Smith Island in the bay; $30 million for oyster restoration; and $20 million for Chesapeake Bay Environmental and Protection Programs.