The City of Havre de Grace is seeking state and federal permits to redevelop riverfront lots the city owns along Water Street as a “living shoreline,” with native plants and a system to filter stormwater runoff, as well as boat and kayak launches.
“This project will change the shoreline of Havre de Grace forever,” Mayor William T. Martin said during a presentation on the project during a City Council meeting Monday.
Stephanie Noye, of the city’s Department of Public Works, gave council members a detailed presentation on the living shoreline project, something her department has been working on for a number of months. The city has applied for grant funding to cover most of the cost, which officials project could be $2.5 million — Harford County has contributed $500,000 toward construction, according to Noye.
The city is currently working with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain permits, Noye said.
Havre de Grace purchased four parcels, totaling 3.2 acres, along Water Street from Harford County for $1.5 million in early 2017. Voters approved, during a Dec. 27, 2016 special election, the city borrowing $1.1 million to cover the majority of the purchase price; the city had already put $400,000 in municipal funds toward the purchase.
Two of the four lots are along the Susquehanna River, just north of Jean Roberts Memorial Park and the Amtrak rail bridge. The other two are on the opposite side of Water Street, adjacent to Price’s Seafood.
The property had been used in prior decades as an oil terminal, and tests of the soil indicate pollution from fuel and pesticides.
The living shoreline project, if successful, would show how a city can “revert its industrial shoreline back into a state of natural repose,” the mayor said Monday.
City officials plan to create a living shoreline from the Water Street lots south to the Tidewater Grill restaurant. It would be similar to shoreline replenishment projects along the Havre de Grace Promenade near Concord Point Park.
“Even though it’s small, it has all of the necessary elements to treat the stormwater runoff and to infiltrate that runoff before it reaches the river,” Noye said of the Concord Point shoreline, which resembles a beach.
The shoreline would be created with plantings, cobble rocks, sandy soils, and designed with recessed embayments, “pocket beaches,” and breakwater structures projecting out into the water to protect the shore — as well as the buildings and infrastructure behind it — from erosion and flooding, according to Noye.
Noye noted that such a design helps “recreate the natural relationship between the land and the water.”
“Unlike a seawall, you will create the habitats and the ecosystems that are needed for a healthy environment,” she said.
Using native plants as well as other vegetation, such as fallen trees, helps create habitat for wildlife and other plants on the land and in the water, according to Noye.
Part of the property between Water Street and the river will be paved over to create a parking lot for boat trailers. A dual-lane boat launch, with a floating pier, will be built along the water, along with a separate “soft launch” for kayaks.
Those amenities are meant to “really make that [property] usable and get people excited about coming to the northern end of the city,” Noye said.
A system of step pools and rock weirs will be built in Jean Roberts Park and on part of the Water Street lots to filter stormwater runoff. A gravel filtration system will be built under the parking lot to direct rainwater to the step pools and weirs, according to Noye.
Public Works Director Tim Whittie noted, while first presenting the living shoreline project to the council in January, that it will allow the city to disconnect existing storm drain outfalls from the river and redirect runoff through the filtration system, which he described as a “regenerative stormwater conveyance system,” or RSC.
Development of living shorelines, with RSC filtration systems, has the support of state agencies such as the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the agency has been supporting Havre de Grace’s initiative.
“It’s just an amazing technology that DNR is really embracing,” Whittie said.
Councilman Jason Robertson questioned Noye, during her presentation, about the planned reuse of the Water Street lots.
“I love the idea of the living shoreline,” he said. “I don’t know that I love the idea of that ... buy that the city just made, that the taxpayers just made, going into a parking lot and a boat launch. I just don’t think that makes a lot of sense economically.”
Noye stressed that part of the Water Street lots will go to stormwater filtration, and more amenities such as public bathrooms and picnic tables can be placed there, plus the lots across Water Street are available for additional development.
The site will be a “park-like setting,” designed for public access to the waterfront and to connect via sidewalk to the downtown area. Plus, there is a greater chance of getting grant funding for projects that involve paving over property with soil pollution, according to Noye.
“It will be green and lush and beautiful,” she said. “The plants will be beautiful.”
Council President David Glenn praised Noye for her efforts, and he noted her remarks about how the project will help the city meet the requirements of its MS4 stormwater discharge permit, issued through the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which Glenn called “a win-win for the city.”
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“After seeing what’s happened in Concord Point, once we get this end completed, I think it’s going to make that land that we own down there [on Water Street] a lot more lucrative for the future, and much more attractive,” Glenn said. “It will make it look like a true waterfront community.”