I am writing in response to “Corps of Engineers may get more restoration projects, scrutiny” in the September Bay Journal. I would like to provide additional information to the readers about the Baltimore District’s extensive and continued involvement in both preserving and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
I agree that the Corps has had and continues to have a substantial impact on the Bay. T he Baltimore District operates 14 reservoirs in the watershed that provide flood protection for hundreds of thousands of citizens. Many of these also provide water supply, recreation, water quality and natural resource management benefits.
We continue to invest in environmental enhancements at our reservoir sites and offer significant environmental education programs for the public as well.
The parks are visited by citizens of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, the District of Columbia and surrounding areas.
In this time of drought, the value of these reservoirs is apparent. They provide valuable sources of drinking water and continue to improve water quality in areas of the watershed where acid mine drainage remains a serious problem. They also provide a level of flow necessary for maintaining aquatic life.
The Corps has also constructed and continues to construct flood damage reduction projects to protect local communities. These projects are evaluated extensively to determine ways to avoid and minimize adverse environmental impacts.
Many of these projects include environmental enhancements and recreational components.
The Baltimore District dredges channels to maintain shipping commerce for the port of Baltimore and the many communities that depend on commercial navigation for their economic prosperity. Many of these channels are also used extensively by recreational boaters.
We continue to find beneficial uses for the dredge material from many of our navigation projects, such as restoring degraded wetlands and eroding Bay islands like Poplar Island.
The September article stated that critics say Poplar Island is less valuable for wildlife than originally advertised. The project is many years from completion, yet already there is a tremendous amount of wildlife inhabiting the island — least tern (a state-listed threatened species), diamondback terrapins, brown pelicans, great blue herons and ospreys, to name a few.
The recently constructed island also provides protection for Poplar Harbor, which has given submerged aquatic vegetation the opportunity to re-establish in the harbor. When the island is completed, we will have restored 1,140 acres of island — 570 acres of wetlands and 570 acres of upland habitat.
For the past few years, we have joined with the state of Maryland in an extensive oyster restoration effort. In the first phase of the project, we constructed an estimated 200 acres of oyster habitat in the Chester, Choptank, Magothy, Patuxent and Severn rivers. This past year, the BaltimoreDistrict, along with our partner, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, began a second phase that in 2002 alone will have contributed another 95 acres of habitat.
The momentum of this effort is building. Our sister district in Norfolk and the commonwealth of Virginia is now involved. This year, the Norfolk District’s effort will create more than 150 acres of oyster habitat in Tangier Sound.
In our regulatory role, we receive thousands of permit applications for work in the Chesapeake Bay watershed each year. Roughly 80 percent of those applications are for non-controversial work with minor impacts. The other 20 percent, which have more of an impact, are scrutinized closely.
The applications are coordinated with other federal and state resource agencies and many of these permits are only approved after they have been modified to avoid, minimize and compensate for any adverse environmental impacts.
The Corps of Engineers continues to be and has been a responsible environmental steward and a leader in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay for the past 30 years.
Our physical and numerical Bay models have been vital to understanding the science of the Bay and have played an important role in enabling decision makers to set goals for the restoration effort.
Currently, the majority of the Baltimore District’s water resources projects and studies are ecosystem restoration efforts. These include initiatives for the Anacostia, Potomac, Patuxent, Mattawoman, St. Mary’s and Patapsco rivers as well as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Hart-Miller Island and Smith Island, and the restoration of abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania and oysters, to name a few.
In determining whether to proceed with a project, the Corps of Engineers typically finds itself in the role of arbiter among a wide range of stakeholders with divergent, and often, conflicting views.
Our process is a public process, which must consider all views, evaluate all alternative plans and ultimately recommend what is best from all perspectives and in accord with the will of the administration and Congress.
Building restoration projects and protecting the Bay is a complex business, but my dedicated staff and I have and will continue to accept the challenge.