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State & Municipal Government

PAUL S. SARBANES ECOSYSTEM
RESTORATION PROJECT

POPLAR ISLAND, CHESAPEAKE
BAY, MARYLAND

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–Baltimore District,
Maryland Port Administration, and Maryland Environmental Service
Chesapeake Bay, Talbot County, Maryland

The Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island is an island restoration project sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–Baltimore District, and the Maryland Port Administration. The project represents the largest beneficial use project in the United States (valued at more than $350 million) and involves the use of approximately 68 million cubic yards of dredged material from the approach channels of the Baltimore Harbor and Channels navigation project to restore 1,715 acres of remote island habitat located in the Chesapeake Bay, Talbot County, Maryland.  The project will consist of 840 acres of upland habitat at an elevation up to +25 feet, 737 acres of wetland habitat that would be further divided into low marsh and high marsh, and approximately 138 acres of open water embayment.

EA has been actively involved with the Poplar Island project during the past 15 years, and has provided the following services:

  • Environmental Impact Statement and Integrated Feasibility Study
  • Turbidity monitoring (for water quality certification compliance)
  • Quality assurance/quality control of exterior dike fill quantities
  • Pre-placement and post-placement exterior monitoring studies
  1. Water quality monitoring
  2. Sediment quality monitoring (physical and chemical)
  3. Benthic and epibenthic community monitoring
  4. Benthic tissue monitoring (for organics and metals)
  • Contract management for site operations and spillway monitoring
  • Oversight and management for technical services related to dredged material placement and cell development
  • Development of a Project Management Plan and Adaptive Management Plan
  • Preparation of a General Reevaluation Report (GRR) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for a proposed 575-acre lateral expansion and 5-ft vertical expansion.

EA recently served as the lead consultant for the preparation of a GRR with an integrated SEIS to investigate increasing the dredged material capacity and habitat at Poplar Island. The integrated GRR/SEIS evaluated: (1) raising the upland cell dikes above the authorized 23-ft elevation (vertical expansion), (2) expanding the footprint of the island (lateral expansion), (3) environmental enhancements on the island and within Poplar Harbor, (4) increased recreational and educational opportunities, (5) potential acceptance of dredged material from channels that are not in the current authorization, and (6) supplemental actions required to complete the existing Poplar Island configuration.

The recommended plan from the GRR/SEIS consists of a 575-acre expansion of the existing Poplar Island configuration to the north and northeast comprised of wetland habitat, upland habitat, and open water habitat. The plan also includes a 5-ft vertical raising of the upland cells of the existing project to provide additional dredged material placement capacity. This alternative provides approximately 28 million cubic yards of dredged material placement capacity and extends the life of the existing Poplar Island project by approximately 7 years. This alternative provides sufficient dredged material capacity to help meet the near-term capacity need, impacts the minimum amount of borrow area outside of the lateral expansion footprint, is the most cost-effective alternative, and results in the greatest environmental benefits.

The initial schedule for the GRR/SEIS was a 36-month timeframe. However, in anticipation of authorization through a Water Resources Development Act of 2005, the entire GRR/SEIS process for the project was accelerated, and the Final GRR/SEIS was completed and approved by the U.S. Army Civil Works Review Board within a 24-month period. The project was within the first group of projects to ever undergo formal evaluation by the Civil Works Review Board following U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Circular 1105-2-405 and 1105-2-4-6.

The success of the project was largely dependent upon the integrated planning process and the dedication of and direct buy-in from more than 100 individuals representing more than 30 agencies, groups, and public organizations stakeholders throughout the planning and National Environmental Policy Act process.

The project received a Coastal America Partnership Award in 2003 and received an Environmental Excellence Award for Environmental Stewardship from the National Association of Environmental Professionals in 2006.

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