Old bridge to be used in project

June 05, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The old Severn River Bridge is headed for the bottom of the river to become one of the first oyster recovery projects since the December signing of a pact to restore the Chesapeake Bay's shellfish population.

The innovative project is designed to create an oyster bed that will help naturally purify water and attract fish while serving as pilot program for studying artificial reefs and aquaculture.

"Getting 21,000 tons of concrete slab is "the opportunity of a lifetime," said William Moulden. "You have a moment that will never come again."

The Annapolis-area naturalist wants to use bridge rubble as the foundation for an oyster bed that would be cultivated by children in the Sherwood Forest community's summer program, which he directs. Development has caused silt to smother the Severn River bottom, and oysters need a hard surface to grow on.

The project, expected to receive approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month, is the culmination of several months of Mr. Moulden's frenetic lobbying and persistence -- even giving copies of his proposal to state environmental officials as they toured the Severn River area in April.

Mr. Moulden's simple plan to give children a sense of stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay has been adopted by dozens of scientists, private contractors, even the Governor's Bay Programs Office. In recent weeks, it came together.

"This is exactly the kind of thing the environmental community needs, to be innovative," said Joyce Williams, a liaison in the Bay Programs Office. One of the things that impressed her office was the use of the new oyster bed as a teaching tool and living laboratory easily found by the public.

"The old Severn River Bridge: May it rest in pieces," said Paul Massicot, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Tidewater Administration.

His office helped work out the agreement that will give the state ownership of the new oyster bed, for liability reasons. In exchange, Mr. Moulden rescinded one of the three oyster bed leases he had purchased for the Sherwood Forest children, because the state will not allow rubble on either natural or leased beds.

Cianbro Inc., which is building the new span and has to get rid of the old one, was urged by the State Highway Administration and other agencies to embrace Mr. Moulden's project instead of selling the bridge for recycled concrete.

The contractor will place the rubble on the river bottom over about four months when it starts demolishing the bridge in August, said project manager Mike Hart.

Cianbro will move the slabs by barge less than half a mile. The contractor is also leaving the old span's north-side piers as a fishing pier.

"Environmentally it is a good project for the river," Mr. Hart said.

"It's a win-win-win situation," said Dan Witt, SHA project manager. "The environment wins, the SHA wins, and the contractor doesn't have to haul it far."

The Severn is one of six rivers targeted for oyster recovery. MSX and Dermo, diseases that have damaged the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population, are not found in the Severn, partly because the waters are not especially salty. Even though low salinity makes the Severn a less than ideal habitat for oyster cultivation, oysters have lived there.

"We've constructed fish reefs out of concrete before. And we've constructed oyster beds out of oyster shells. But we haven't constructed oyster beds out of concrete, and we will be interested in seeing how this works," Mr. Massicot said.

His office will monitor other aspects of the program, as will the University of Maryland's Horn Point Environmental Laboratories, which will supply oyster larvae.

The lab will also donate 1 million oyster larvae this year to the two historic oyster beds that Mr. Moulden's Sherwood Forest group plans to restore in the Severn's Round Bay, said marine biologist Donald Merritt of Horn Point. The lab is developing oyster-culturing techniques, and the projects will further its studies and clean up the bay, he said.

None of these oysters are going on anyone's dinner plate. They )) will remain in the river to purify the water and help restore the bay's health.

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