PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- Oysters are expanding their real estate in the Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek this summer.
The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, in partnership with the Virginia Port Authority, will begin constructing about 16 acres of oyster reef in early August as part of the environmental mitigation plan accompanying the Craney Island Eastward Expansion, or CIEE, project.
The Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek Oyster Restoration Project restores essential oyster habitat that historically made the Elizabeth River one of the most highly productive oyster populations in Hampton Roads.
The project is a “very important part” of the environmental mitigation component of the Craney Island Eastward Expansion Project, said Doug Martin, the Norfolk District’s chief of Civil Works Projects and CIEE project manager.
“This project is a component of the largest environmental initiative ever undertaken for the Elizabeth River and its surrounding tributaries,” said Heather Wood, the VPA’s environmental director. “This is a 10-year, multi-project plan that carries the support of USACE and some of the region’s most important environmental organizations. It is exciting news that we’re about to begin on the oyster reef, and there are many more projects coming.”
The project is Phase 2 of a $70 million, 411-acre environmental restoration project that will serve to offset the impacts associated with the $900 million CIEE project. USACE and VPA completed Phase 1, an 11-acre wetlands creation project at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Va., last November.
The goal of Phase 2 is to restore a sustainable oyster population to the Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek and incorporates knowledge and experience gained from other Corps oyster projects in Virginia’s Great Wicomico and Lynnhaven rivers, said Keith Lockwood, the district’s environmental and technical lead for the oyster restoration project.
The plan uses a “landscape approach,” which allows all three-habitat elements -- wetlands creation, oyster restoration and creation, and remediation of Elizabeth River bottom -- to thrive and sustain each other, Lockwood said. The project includes underwater habitat covered with layers of shell – the height of the reefs after post-construction settling will be approximately 12-16 inches thick. The layer will serve as the reef base throughout the proposed mitigation area.
In areas where little or no shell exists, Lockwood said, construction of the reefs will change the habitat into one that’s friendlier to oysters. Through a special agreement with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, or VMRC, the USACE contractor is using fossil oyster shell dredged from the lower James River to build-up areas where historic reefs were once located.
“The collaboration with VMRC was essential to this effort,” Lockwood said.
The Norfolk District awarded the Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek Oyster Restoration project to Precon Marine Inc. of Chesapeake, Va. for $3.6 million. Norfolk District will manage the construction project, which is set for completion by May 2014.