Major Channel Dredging Project Creating New Islands In Watershed

OCEAN CITY — As an intended by-product of the massive federal navigation channel dredging project ongoing since September, new islands are being created in the coastal bays for the first time since the 1930s.

In September, the federal Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a significant dredging project for the navigation channels in the Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent Bays with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of material dredged from the important channels that have silted in over time. The project is part of the Army Corps’ maintenance of the federal navigation channels throughout the resort area, which fill in over long periods of time through natural and man-made processes.

The channels are being dredged to a depth and width needed to support the area’s commercial and recreational fishing and boating industries. Naturally, the roughly 418,000 cubic yards of material dredged from the channels need to be distributed somewhere, creating a unique opportunity to re-create islands in the coastal bays that have not been seen since the 1930s.

According to the plan, roughly 18,000 cubic yards of dredged material is being used to create new islands in the area of the historic Dog and Bitch Islands in the Isle of Wight Bay and already the new islands near the Thorofare are starting to take shape. The islands will ultimately create critical habitat for a wide variety of species of migratory birds that pass through the mid-Atlantic region.

“It’s really a win-win situation,” said the Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s Dr. Roman Jessien this week. “The initial intent was to dredge the navigation channels to an appropriate depth and width, and that created an opportunity to use the dredged material to recreate some of the islands that have been lost to erosion over the decades.”

The recreation of the Dog and Bitch Islands and another historic island just to the north known as Collier’s Island is only part of the equation. Another 245,000 cubic yards of dredged material are being used to restore the historic Robin’s Marsh area in the Chincoteague Bay. In addition, another 55,000 cubic yards of dredged material is being used to recreate an historic island near Green Point in the Chincoteague, with 57,000 cubic yards being used to create another island at Gray’s Point.

The town of Ocean City is also being provided with about 61,000 cubic yards of material, which will be placed on the Inlet beach and redistributed. Jessien said the dredged material for bird habitat island creation formula is tried and true and likened it to a similar project conducted each year at Skimmer Island just north of the Route 50 bridge.

Each spring, the navigation channel at the head of the Ocean City Fishing Center is dredged out and the dredged material is pumped onto Skimmer Island to help preserve the critical habitat for migratory birds.

“This current project is much like the Skimmer Island project but on a much larger scale,” said Jessien. “It serves the dual purpose of keeping those important channels open for navigation while providing material to create and restore these critical habitat areas.”

The project is being managed and fully funded at 100 percent by the Army Corps because they are federal channels. Roughly $6 million was allocated for the dredging and island restoration project from the federal Disaster Relief Appropriation Act of 2013 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.