In 2001 the Maryland legislature passed the Dredged Material Management Act of 2001 directing port officials to do a 20-year plan for dredged material placement. The Maryland Port Administration (MPA) has initiated feasibility studies on a number of sites that could fill the port’s dredged material placement requirements.
Hart-Miller Island where dredged material from both bay and harbor channels has been placed for the past 20 years will officially close on December 31 2009. In recent years Hart-Miller has been devoted almost exclusively to material dredged from inside Baltimore Harbor.
Poplar Island in Chesapeake Bay is the site for maintenance material from the bay channels and its annual placement capacity will diminish as the years pass reaching full capacity by 2015 according to Frank Hamons Deputy Director for Harbor Development for the MPA.
Poplar Island is being constructed as a wildlife refuge with dredged material being used to create the final contours. As new wetland cells are developed less material can be placed each year so the new option for bay material will have to be in place before Poplar Island reaches capacity explained Hamons.
The finished Poplar Island will include 570 acres of wetland and 570 acres of upland habitat. It has provided extensive habitat for shorebirds wading birds and migratory waterfowl. This summer snowy egrets nested on the island and 179 diamondback terrapin nests were identified.
Twenty-two acres of wetlands have been created so far with an additional 35 acres scheduled for creation in 2005. The proposed expansion area would be as much as 576 acres extending the existing island to the northeast.
The bay channels produce an annual 3.5 million cubic yards of maintenance material.
In 1975 the Maryland legislature ruled that material dredged from inside the harbor must be considered contaminated and unsuitable for in-bay disposal necessitating a containment placement site though much of the material is actually as clean as that dredged in the open bay. Hart-Miller Island was designed for dredged material from both bay and harbor and opened in 1984. Material from the 50-foot channel deepening project was placed here as well as 600000 cubic yards annually from harbor maintenance dredging. By 2009 there will be 100 million cubic yards of material in Hart-Miller Island.
It is two miles long and one mile wide with 44-foot dikes in the 800-acre north cell and 18-foot dikes in the 300-acre south cell. The port and the Corps of Engineers is developing the south cell as a wildlife habitat including ponds and surface wetlands.
As part of the search for new port sites port planners established the Harbor Team which is a group of citizens from all the harbor interests including from Baltimore city and county Anne Arundel county and neighborhoods surrounding the port.
The reason for seeking citizen involvement was to ensure that the plans are agreed to by interested residents said Hamons. They have also identified community enhancements to fit into the neighborhoods which would be an integral part of the final plan created by the port.
The group decided to recommend three options for further study as upland placement sites: Masonville which was formerly a placement site and is now an automobile terminal; Sparrows Point the site of a Bethlehem Steel plant for 100 years and which has been sold to the International Steel Group; and BP Fairfield. These are all brownfield sites. The MPA owns the Masonville site and the other two would require agreements with the owners.
The port has recently renovated another upland site – Cox Creek to be operational in 2005.. This site has a half-million-cubic-yard annual capacity. There needs to be one other option on line in the 2008 to 2010 time frame to properly manage the annual maintenance material along with new work dredging and Hamons foresees a combination of Cox Creek and one other site as a logical solution.
The MPA worked with the Corps of Engineers in identifying possible sites for material dredged from the Chesapeake Bay channels.
The search was narrowed to three sites: an expansion of Poplar Island; James Island about 10 miles south of Poplar Island on the east side of the bay and Barren Island 10 miles south of James Island.
The final bay placement site would be put into use in around 2011 and would provide a total capacity of 80 million cubic yards or more.
Of the three options Poplar Island expanded has the best chance of making the schedule said Hamons but the answer could be a combination of two or more options.
The Chesapeake Bay entrance channels and the channels inside Baltimore Harbor are 50 feet deep while the northern entrance through the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal has a controlling depth of 35 feet. The MPA and some privately-owned terminals are evaluating the market with an eye to channel expansion so some possible new work material is being figured into the placement site planning.
Decisions on which sites or combinations of sites will go forward to construction will be made by the end of 2005 when the feasibility studies will be finished.