It takes a growing business to revive nature with plants

Conference under way on the restoration of coastal, estuary habitat

April 16, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

In the early to mid-1990s, while studying landscape design at the University of Maryland, College Park and environmental sciences at what was then Salisbury State College, Jayson Meyers grew plants in ponds in his mother's back yard in Cub Hill. That led to a mail-order nursery business.

Today, Meyers is president of Wayfarer Aquatic Nurseries Inc., a three-employee business in Perry Hall that provides wetland plant materials, dune and tidal area restoration, bio-engineering, pond management and consulting. Founded in 1997, Wayfarer is part of a growing estuary- and coastal-restoration industry.

Steve Emmett-Mattox, vice president and program director at Restore America's Estuaries, a national nonprofit organization established in 1995, said that at least $250 million is spent annually on restoration. Most of that money comes from federal programs, with local and private matches, he said.

"You don't usually think of big business when you think of habitat restoration, but there is a lot of money to be made in this emerging industry," Emmett-Mattox said.

"Examples are nurseries which grow the grasses that are needed for restoration; engineering and design firms; big equipment companies, like dredging companies; and instrumentation companies who monitor and measure our results."

Emmett-Mattox and others are in Baltimore this week for the inaugural National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, which runs through today at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor. The conference is sponsored by Restore America's Estuaries. Restore America's goal, according to information on its Web site, is to restore at least 1 million acres of estuarine habitat by 2010.

Wayfarer Aquatics Nurseries was among the dozens of companies that erected booths at the conference. Meyers and Jamie Carver, director of business development for Wayfarer, helped man it.

The men work out of the former Baynes and Sons Florist building in Perry Hall. Meyers said he began with two greenhouses but now has four where he grows everything from rattlesnake grass to yellow water lilies to coastal panic grass - plants used in restoration.

In the spring and fall of 2002, Wayfarer relocated 250 units of eelgrass beds in the Isle of Wight Bay - with the help of partner Jim Anderson, president of Florida-based Seagrass Recovery. Wayfarer is under contract to supply more than 50,000 plants for the Chesapeake Bay, Meyers said.

"I think our first year we may have done $60,000 [in sales]," Meyers said. "Now we're doing a lot better than that. We'll probably do close to $250,000 to $300,000 this year."

Sally Yozell, a vice president at Battelle Memorial Institute who chaired a panel at the conference, said the Ohio nonprofit research and development firm has found the restoration business to be well worth it.

"This is a very big market," Yozell said. "I don't know about nationally, but for Battelle it's a significant business. We have 8,000 employees, and we do several billion dollars' worth of business annually. Restoration is just one part of what we do."

Battelle is involved with the Chesapeake Bay restoration programs, Yozell said. The nonprofit firm is also involved in the $14 billion Everglades restoration authorized by Congress several years ago.

"It's really the premier restoration project going on in the country, if not in the world," she said of the Everglades.

"A lot of other states are looking to it for lessons on how to do large restoration projects. The federal government will provide a lot of resources for companies like my company to provide the science for these large-scale restorations."

Other companies that also plan, manage and design projects include DMJM+HARRIS Inc. of Houston and Moffatt & Nichol Engineers of Long Beach, Calif.

Dominic Izzo, vice president of DMJM+HARRIS, said his company helps build ports, among other things.

"When you're building a port, almost all ports are built in an estuary," Izzo said. "The port of Baltimore is in the Chesapeake Bay, which is an estuary.

"If we're going to build ports, we realize we also have to restore wetlands and protect wetlands as part of that process. The same civil engineers who build ports also do restorations."

The Poplar Island restoration project in Maryland, Izzo said, is a good example of innovative ways to help protect the environment.

"They're taking the dredged material from Baltimore harbor and depositing it onto Poplar Island, then coming back and planting natural grass and things like that," Izzo said.

"In the old days they would have taken it offshore and dumped it or put it in a landfill, but now it's helping to restore wetlands in the bay."

Moffatt & Nichol became involved in the Poplar Island restoration about six years ago, said John R. Lesnik, chief operating officer.

The company is involved in wetlands projects in several other states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey.

"We did a lot of modeling to show it wouldn't harm oyster beds - the environment," Lesnik said of work on Poplar Island.

"The funding for such projects has really grown. Early on, they had shoestring budgets and small-scale projects. As awareness has grown, federal agencies have come in with lots of money."

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