Solomons, MD – As part of the requirement for being permitted to install a temporary barge offloading pier on the Patuxent River, Dominion Energy was tasked with the restoration of an oyster bed. While two acres would have been sufficient, the company—which owns and operates the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant in Lusby agreed to restore four acres.
“Today’s the first step in the restoration,” said Dominion Cove Point’s Vice President of LNG Operations Mike Frederick. Dominion needed the temporary pier in order to have the large components of the planned liquefaction facility transported by barge to Southern Calvert County. Those components were then transported by trucks to the Lusby plant. Since the pier could have posed environmental impacts, the oyster restoration project was mandated. According to a Dominion Energy media briefing, “when the pier removal was complete, oyster surveys were conducted and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources determined that no additional mitigation would be required.”
“We are doing what we were required to do on the permit,” Frederick said.
Frederick pointed out that the oyster mitigation project taking place in the shadow of the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge was not Dominion’s first foray into environmental restoration. Several years ago an oyster bed was constructed in the Chesapeake Bay using ruble from the original Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The utility has also restored a freshwater marsh and has a contract with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory to monitor water quality.
The lengthy process of establishing a productive oyster bed has three phases. Currently underway is the placing of the cultch. Dominion Energy stated an estimated 17,600 bushels of material made up of oyster shells (cultch) will be laid down on oyster grounds to furnish points of attachment for oyster larvae. Randy Rogers of GAI Consultants said the shells have been stored at Shore Thing Shellfish LLC in Tall Timbers. “We did that so they could age,” said Rogers, who added that six-month process was done as a way to prevent introducing invasive species or disease during the cultch placement. Rogers said the shells were procured “from shuck houses on the Eastern Shore and Virginia.”
On Wednesday, May 17, Dominion, with help from Bunky’s Charter Boats, gave members of the local media a chance to view the cultch placing process, which had started three weeks earlier. The site is temporarily marked with buoys. The process was viewed aboard the Red Osprey, a 42-foot custom-built vessel skippered by Simon Dean.
Dominion’s briefing noted the “eastern oyster will be used for the restoration.” The eastern oyster is a native species that “grows in concentrated numbers on the bay floor, forming reefs that provide habitat for numerous fish and invertebrates. Easter oysters were once abundant throughout the middle and lower Chesapeake Bay. However, disease, overharvest, habitat disturbance and water quality degradation have caused populations to decline. Restoration of historic oyster beds is a crucial tool for preserving the eastern oyster.”
The dispersal was performed May 17 by the crew aboard The Bar Tender. Subsequent procedures are the spat set—placing oyster larvae on the shell, and spat-on-shell placement, which is the “planting” and distribution of the larvae evenly throughout the restoration site.
“To ‘set’ the shell with larvae, the washed shell will be transported to the Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory in St. Leonard and to the Piney Point Aquaculture Center. Bagged shell will be placed in 7,000-gallon tanks filled with bay water 24 hours prior to introducing oyster larvae,” Dominion officials explained. The spat-on-shell placement is similar to the ongoing cultch placement. The spat-on-shell planting will occur during higher tide periods. Dominion stated, “underwater verification will be conducted to determine the status of the restoration site.”
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