Project aims to help a river heal itself

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

More debris from the Old Severn River Bridge is to be dumped into the river tomorrow as part of a second project aimed at restoring the waterway. This is an $80,000 effort to stabilize the collapsing peninsula that separates delicate Brewer Pond from the river.

The 22-acre pond, just downstream from Round Bay near Crownsville, is an unusual combination fresh and sea water pond.

The project is designed to create a 5-acre marsh in the river along the peninsula that advocates say will help the river heal itself with wetland plants that soak up nutrients and trap silt.

Workers will use railings from the old bridge and 2,000 tons of granite to create a 2,100-foot-long breakwater in the river parallel to the eroding peninsula. The new marsh will lie between the rocks and the peninsula, said John Flood, president of the Federation of South River Associations and designer of the project.

Over the years, strong waves have eroded the hook-shaped peninsula, with clumps of its cliffs falling into the water.

"It has been dubbed the single worst source of sedimentation on the Severn River," said Tom Andrews, the county's chief environmental official.

Hydrogeologists estimated that if unprotected, the peninsula will erode away within 20 years, smothering the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay with tons of dirt and taking away the protected pond where bald eagles and blue heron feed.

Help has come from many sources for the project.

The state and county are contributing $70,000 toward the cost of the project, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is paying $10,000. The Sherwood Forest community paid for consulting studies leading to the project, and children in the community will plant marsh grasses.

The State Highway Administration is giving the railing from the bridge, which is being demolished now that a new one has been completed. Mr. Flood is charging minimal fees. Dr. William Koenig, who cannot use his property for anything, has consented to its use for dumping the bridge debris, and science teacher William Moulden, who heads the Sherwood Forest Naturalist Program, is coordinating.

In that sense, it is similar to another project Mr. Moulden coordinated: The building of three oyster reefs in the Severn, which began last month, has a list of a few dozen collaborators, from children to bureaucrats.

In a generation, the Severn has been suffocated by development that led to the death of most of its oyster and fish reefs, and took away the grasses that were home to insects and shellfish and provided food for once-abundant wildlife.

Collaborations among various state, federal and local government agencies, along with communities and armies of volunteers may be the wave of the future for small projects aimed at saving the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, Mr. Moulden said.

"Those living on the Severn River and within the Severn River watershed cannot expect government or others to solely rescue our beloved river," he said.

"That's a wonderful attitude to have," said Paul Massicot, director of the Department of Natural Resources Tidewater Administration.

"If we'd have hundreds of groups like that around the state, we'd be a leg up on the bay restoration program. It's going to take more than just government programs over the long haul to restore the bay and keep it healthy," he said.

Peter Jensen, state director of fisheries, said he and other state officials cooperate with community groups "because we think that restoring the bay does require the involvement of everybody. And if they are in a position to undertake small projects we are willing to help them. Maybe the local successes will show us how to do it better somewhere else."

Mr. Moulden, a vice president of the Severn River Association and member of the Severn River Commission, is showing a 1-year plan to restore the river to both groups.

"I want to see a clean river," he said. "I and my children swim in it and live by it."

The plan, he said, takes advantage of the state's strategy to help cure the bay's ills by working on the waterways that feed it.

Elements of Mr. Moulden's plan include having children cultivate millions of oysters to seed oyster shell reefs. It also includes building a 10-acre reef at the mouth of Spa Creek and a 2-acre reef off the point of Epping Forest and building a 1-acre reef at the mouth of Weems Creek.

"We want to have zillions of gallons of water being filtered every day," Mr. Moulden said. An oyster can filter up to 50 gallons a day, cleansing the water by dining on many of its impurities.

That he got the oyster reefs in the Severn at all has excited other community groups.

The Chesapeake Harbor Community Association has been studying for two years a plan to build a small oyster reef near the mouth of Spa Creek, said Charlie Ross, a past president of the community association and president of a condominium association there.

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