Friday, June 19–County Says Army Corps Should Honor Bay Restrictions

SNOW HILL – The Army Corps of Engineers will be asked to abide by the same coastal bays dredging restrictions as private parties, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed Tuesday.

Roman Jesien, staff scientist for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, asked the commissioners to write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, asking the Corps to honor the seasonal dredging restrictions everyone else abides by in order to protect wildlife in the northern coastal bays.

The seasonal dredging restrictions recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service ban hydraulic dredging in the coastal bays watershed between April 1 and the end of June. In some cases, dredging is permissible through April 15.

A Corps project this spring to deepen the Isle of Wight Channel was criticized by local environmental interests for dredging in the Isle of Wight Channel beginning around April 20 and continuing through early May, during the dredging blackout. The project would take the dredged material from the bay and deposit it on the beach.

At stake, according to Jesien, is essential fish habitat for young summer flounder, and fairness for all parties.

“If it’s good enough for the private individual then the Corps should conform to the same standards, and listen to the biologists,” Jesien told the commissioners Tuesday morning.

The dredging was not an emergency need, he pointed out during the meeting.

Allowing the Corps to dredge when private interests are prevented from dredging could create issues with private dredgers, Jesien said.

Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor felt that allowing the Corps to proceed while preventing private contractors from dredging sends the wrong message.

Bob Mitchell, the former head of the county’s Environmental Programs director, agreed the real issue was the conflict between federal and private interests.

Mitchell wrote in an e-mail that the Corps had planned to do the work before the restricted time, but issues with the contractor delayed the project.

The Corps’ plans to maintenance dredge the channel were not secret, and were filed in October. Originally, the corps planned to conduct the dredging in March.

Concerns arose within the National Marine Fisheries Service over the impact the dredging would have on larval and early juvenile summer flounder.

In response, the Corps cited a study out of Rutgers University showing that young flounder were not found in the channel during that time period.

Jesien disagreed with the Rutgers University assessment. Data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources show that young summer flounder inhabit both deep and shallow areas of the northern coastal bays, like Isle of Wight Bay. Horseshoe crabs, which use the Isle of Wight Channel dredge site for a pre-spawning staging area, also need protection from dredging during that time period.

The commissioners voted unanimously to send the letter asking for compliance.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said, adding that the commissioners needed to let the Corps know that the county realizes they did not abide by the restrictions on this project.

“There should be equal application of the law,” Boggs said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley suggested beginning the letter with an appreciation for doing the work.

“With a big ‘however,’” said Boggs.