Naturalist covets used concrete

April 25, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

An Annapolis-area naturalist wants to recycle concrete from the demolition of the old Severn River Bridge into the foundation for what could be the first oyster restoration project since the signing of an oyster recovery plan for the Chesapeake Bay in December.

William Moulden wants to pair the Sherwood Forest community's summer naturalist program for children, which he directs, with the University of Maryland's Horn Point Environmental Laboratories, which grows infant oysters as part of its research, to restore two long-gone oyster bars in the Severn River.

Since he dreamed up the plan to give children in the program a conservation-minded project that would enhance their sense of stewardship of Chesapeake Bay it has grown at least tenfold to include scientists from several agencies, the creation of a foundation in the children's name to lease the oyster beds, proposals to the Chesapeake Bay Trust for funding, and more.

"What Mr. Moulden is proposing is consistent with the oyster recovery plan," said Pete Jensen, director of fisheries at the Department of Natural Resources.

The nonbinding recovery pact, signed by environmentalists, watermen, politicians and businessmen, named the Severn as one of six targeted rivers and recommended the start of pilot aquaculture programs. It also sought the establishment of research programs to improve detection, prevention and control of MSX and Dermo, diseases that have decimated the bay's oyster population.

Because development has caused so much silt to run off and smother the Severn's bottom, any new beds would have to be raised hard surfaces. This is where the bridge could come in: to form the bed.

But DNR will not allow rubble any larger than natural oyster size to be placed on leased historic beds for restoration, Mr. Jensen said. Two of Mr. Moulden's leased beds, those in Round Bay, fall into that category.

Cianbro Inc., which is building the new bridge and has the contract to demolish most of the old one, hasn't decided whether it would crush 9,000 tons of its concrete for the Severn River proposal.

The company's other options include selling pieces of the bridge for recycled concrete or giving it to DNR to start a fish reef in the bay at Plum Point in Calvert County. A State Highway Administration spokesman said the contractor will look at the practical and financial aspects of each this week with an eye toward making tentative plans in May.

The bridge contains 21,000 tons of concrete. Dewitt Myatt, Maryland Reef Program manager, said he is prepared to share. The span's north side piers will remain as a fishing pier.

Oyster beds are part of the foundation for the health of the bay, explained Chris Judy, DNR natural resources manager. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. And an oyster population draws other aquatic life.

"In a conservation point of view, it makes sense," Mr. Moulden said.

It is an unusual plan, conceded marine biologist Donald Merritt of Horn Point. "The traditional way is to use oyster shell."

But the lab is developing oyster culturing techniques, and this type of project will further its studies and help clean up the bay, he said.

The plan calls for Horn Point to donate up to 1 million oyster larvae from its lab. They would grow and set on bags of oyster shells that would sit in a huge tank in the Severn at Brewer Beach. After a few months, Mr. Moulden's students would cut off the bags and place the oysters on the restored bed, where they would grow and help purify the Severn's water, said Dr. Merritt and Mr. Moulden.

The proposal has the backing of local environmental organizations, including the Severn River Commission. The Federation of South River Associations hopes to use it as a model for restoration projects of its own, said John Flood, federation president.

But rebuilding the Round Bay oyster bars would probably take a decade, Mr. Moulden said.

One bed, as depicted on a 1908 state oyster bar map, is about 40 acres, and another is 18 acres, said Mr. Judy.

Oysters started this summer could be viable by next summer, then take a few years to grow to 4 inches. While that is considered market size, these oysters would stay in the river, where oyster harvesting is prohibited.

Mr. Moulden said his program would cost $140,000 on the open market. But the price has been reduced because the children have raised money for 20-year leases on the oyster bars.

He is hoping to get $20,000 in grants and gifts to buy dredged oyster shells, the tank and net bags. And marine biologists have agreed to work on the program for its research value, not money.

The project is not without its scientific shortcomings, however, Dr. Merritt said.

The Severn River is not an ideal oyster habitat because its water is not all that salty, he explained.

What the Severn has going for it is that it is nearly disease-free, he added, a critical factor.

Mr. Moulden said that with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers and DNR, he has filed for permits within the last two weeks and asked to have them expedited.

In case the plan falls through, Mr. Moulden has a backup. Another Sherwood Forest resident has the lease on a 9-acre viable oyster bed, and would allow the program to begin there, he said.

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