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For the first time, Virginia is setting aside capital funds to restore its oyster population

Chesapeake Bay Foundation workers use a crane to load recycled oyster shells onto the nonprofit’s new floating restoration facility.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation workers use a crane to load recycled oyster shells onto the nonprofit’s new floating restoration facility. (Courtesy photo)

Virginia is setting $10 million in new funding for oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay, focusing on the Piankatank, Great Wicomico and York Rivers.

It marks the first time the state is using capital funds, usually reserved for building state facilities and roads, to restore natural resources.

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Bringing oyster populations back has been a top priority because the shellfish play a key role in cleaning the bay. Oyster reefs also protect shorelines from erosion and are habitats for crabs and fish, and oysters are an important commercial fishery.

The state’s stepped up efforts with the signing of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014 have restored 240.5 acres of oyster habitat, on top of the earlier restoration of 473 acres. The agreements set a goal of restoring oyster populations in 10 Bay tributaries by 2025.

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“This investment is a recognition that our natural assets are just as important as roads and buildings,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, who proposed the first use of capital funds for restoration in his latest budget, convincing the General Assembly to retain the approach even as it revised the budget in response to the pandemic.

Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Steven Bowman said the funding would help his agency continue restoration on the Bay tributaries still on its work plan, after it set 10,500 tons of rock and 100,000 bushels of shell to restore 21 acres on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River.

The Elizabeth River work, funded from a settlement with Atlantic Wood Industries for the cleanup of its Superfund site, completes restoration of the second of the six tributaries Virginia has promised to restore. Restoration of the Lafayette River was completed in 2019 and work in the Lynnhaven River is underway.

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com

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