Planned artificial reef in Patapsco scrapped Project too close to shipping lanes


Plans to build an artificial reef in the Patapsco River off Fort Smallwood Park were scrapped this week because the Maryland Port Authority objected that it would be too close to Baltimore's shipping lanes.

"The wake those ocean-going vessels create would swamp any small boats [fishing] off the reef," said Port spokesman Jim Gring.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had planned to use discarded tires and concrete to provide homes for oysters, mussels, barnacles, tiny crustaceans and other marine life that normally populate hard surfaces on the bay bottom. The 510-acre experimental reef was to be located 3.3 miles north of Bodkin Point.

John Foster, chief of the state Tidal Administration's recreational fisheries program, said his agency may attempt to relocate the experimental reef out of harm's way, closer to the Pasadena shoreline.

The setback for the Bodkin Point reef will not affect plans for two other artificial reefs -- one off Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore and another off Plum Point in Calvert County -- which are part of the same Environmental Protection Agency-financed pilot program, Mr. Foster said.

Although the state has been constructing artificial reefs off and on since the 1960s, the federal EPA has given the DNR a $150,000 grant to determine if oyster reefs can be re-created safely and economically using discarded tires. The state has committed another $150,000 from a 1-year-old, $1 tax on new tires, Mr. Foster said.

More than half the 280,000 acres of natural oyster bars identified by state surveys 80 years ago have been lost to over-harvesting, disease and suffocating sediments washing off urban and agricultural areas, Mr. Foster said.

The Army Corps of Engineers and other state agencies are reviewing permit requests for the Bodkin Point reef. But, Mr. Foster said, objections from the Port Authority are forcing DNR to withdraw those requests.

In addition to the safety issue, Mr. Foster said the Port objected to the Bodkin Point reef because it is investigating the same area as a possible disposal site for material dredged from the shipping channels.

But Mr. Gring denied that was an objection. "It was basically the safety issue," he said.

The DNR also is seeking permits to reactivate and enlarge several of its 11 earlier artificial reef projects, which were constructed with construction rubble, piping and other material. Several of those reefs are off Ocean City's beaches.

But some watermen, scientists and environmentalists question if using tires and other materials is safe. They wonder if toxic metals and chemicals might leach out of the tires into the water.

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