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Environment

Chesapeake Bay island construction, key to slowing Eastern Shore erosion, gets $38M in new federal infrastructure spending

A project to rebuild two vanishing Chesapeake Bay islands — and thereby slow erosion along some of Maryland’s most vulnerable coastline — will receive $38 million under recently approved federal infrastructure spending, officials announced Thursday.

The money will go toward Army Corps of Engineers work to begin restoring Barren Island and to complete engineering fieldwork, drilling and testing on James Island. The islands off Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and others in the middle portion of the bay, have lost more than 10,000 acres of land mass since the late 1800s, according to the agency.

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The projects also are considered key to the success of the Port of Baltimore, because the islands are being reconstructed using material dredged from the bay’s shipping channels. More space for the dredged material is needed as the port upgrades and maintains berths and channels to accommodate increasingly larger cargo ships that could otherwise call on other East Coast ports.

James and Barren islands long helped protect Dorchester County shores from Chesapeake Bay winds and waves, but as they have diminished, land loss has accelerated on the mainland. In Dorchester, shorelines have receded by as much as 600 feet over the past four decades, and with much of the county at just a foot or two above sea level, more losses are expected.

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James Island shrunk by more than half from the mid-1800s to the 1990s, from 1,300 acres to 550, but is planned to be expanded to nearly 2,100 acres eventually. Barren Island is expected to grow to 72 acres of wetlands. Work on Barren Island is expected to start in September, while James Island construction is scheduled to begin in 2024.

The projects are expected to cost $1.7 billion over 30 years.

The money is part of nearly $23 billion in new spending approved for the Army Corps for infrastructure work across the country. Other projects receiving the funding in Maryland include channel dredging work in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Dorchester counties.


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