Artificial reef begun at Choptank


November 09, 2007|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun reporter

A massive barge dumped 1,000 tons of concrete slabs on the floor of the Chesapeake Bay yesterday to begin construction of the state's fourth artificial reef.

The site at the mouth of the Choptank River, known as "The Gooses," was once a popular fishing spot that could attract 100 boats in its heyday. Its yield, however, gradually diminished as silt covered the hard bottom.

Marty Gary, a fisheries biologist who is overseeing the work for the Department of Natural Resources, said that when construction is complete, the Gooses will be "the crown jewel of the Chesapeake's artificial reefs" to serve as habitat for fish, oysters and crabs.

Material for the reef is coming from the demolition of the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the I-95 span between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River. All told, 15 barges of material are earmarked for the site.

"We're off and running," said Gary, as crabbers moved their pots to make way for the barge, its tugboat and support vessels. "Our only challenge now is the weather."

The project is the fourth under the auspices of the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative. Other sites are off St. Mary's County, Calvert County and in Tangier Sound on the Eastern Shore.

Dominion Energy has donated $250,000 for the Gooses project to provide fishing opportunities lost when security concerns closed the area around the Cove Point LNG docks in Calvert County.

Earlier this week after reviewing navigational issues and making recommendations, the Coast Guard signed off on the permit, the last hurdle.

When it is completed, the reef will be a series of ribs running east-west, each 6-10 feet high, six football fields wide and 60 feet long.

"It has all the ingredients to be one of the premier fishing spots on the bay," Gary said.

Reef building isn't new, but techniques have improved. Maryland built 20 artificial bay reefs before funding dried up in the mid-1990s. Ten reefs were built near Ocean City.

It costs $20 to $30 per ton to move the bridge slabs and columns down the Potomac River to sites on the bay.

MARI, a partnership of 30 bay interests, was established last summer as a fund-raising program administered by Coastal Conservation Association Maryland. The nonprofit has raised nearly $1 million, half of it through a state bond approved by the legislature last session. BP and Shell oil companies and Honeywell International also contributed.

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