The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is starting work on two critical projects to benefit Smith Island residents — a navigation improvement project at Rhodes Point that includes the construction of two jetties, and dredging the Big Thorofare and Twitch Cove federal channels.
"I'm very proud of our collective team from the federal, state and local governments that helped get these critical projects funded and the contracts awarded. These projects will not only improve transportation for the residents of Smith Island but will also protect them against sea-level rise and coastal erosion, while also helping to improve the environment,” said Col. Ed Chamberlayne, Baltimore District commander.
Coastal Design & Construction Inc., a small business out of Gloucester, Virginia, began sill excavation Nov. 30 as part of the $6.88-million Rhodes Point project.
The project, in coordination with Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Somerset County, consists of the realignment of a portion of the federal navigation channel in Sheep Pen Gut through dredging; construction of two jetties to prevent shoaling in the channel and to reduce the continual need for dredging; and creation of a stone sill along the shoreline to prevent further erosion and contain the clean dredged material from the project.
"We cannot thank our federal and state partners enough for bringing this very important project to fruition, which will protect Smith Island’s shoreline from the hostilities of the Bay and provide better ingress and egress to the communities of Smith Island," said Randy Laird, Somerset County Commissioners president.
While the project’s primary purpose is for navigation improvement, the project area will also benefit from wetland restoration and protection. Native vegetation will be planted on the placed dredged material behind the stone sill to restore or enhance about 5 acres of wetlands. In addition, approximately 10 acres of existing wetlands south of the federal channel behind the newly-restored acres will be protected.
“I’m glad to see our effective federal, state and local partnership is making this high-priority effort move forward,” said Mark Belton, Maryland Natural Resources secretary. “This important project will help assure the navigational lifeline to the people of Smith Island and provide sustainable environmental benefits for years to come.”
The majority of the navigation improvement project is anticipated to wrap up in late fall 2018. Marsh restoration and plantings will carry over into summer 2019.
Vortex Marine Construction Inc., a small business based out of Oakland, California, is anticipated to begin a $3.1-million maintenance dredging project of the Big Thorofare and Twitch Cove federal channels in early 2018.
“These two channels go through the heart of Smith Island and are necessary for the population to travel and receive goods,” said Danielle Szimanski, Baltimore District Operations Division.
Approximately 80,000 cubic yards of material will be removed from the 60-foot-wide channels in order to provide the authorized depth of 7 feet mean lower low water with two feet of overdepth.
Dredging is anticipated to wrap up in late spring 2018.
Material dredged from the project will be beneficially reused to restore habitat at Swan Island, which is part of the Martin National Wildlife Refuge on Smith Island. The intent is for the material to restore dune habitat and to create high and low marsh habitats; act as a buffer for restored habitat from wind and waves; and provide a natural breakwater for the Town of Ewell.