Pictured: Google Earth images of Cedar Island, courtesy of Chris Hein with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

A local group is working to rebuild Cedar Island’s marsh.

At one time the target of development similar to Chincoteague Island, Cedar Island, like all the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands, has shifted and shrunk over time. The barrier islands have protected the Eastern Shore’s seaside from major storms and erosion.

In the glory days, these islands were home to inhabitants, hunt clubs, developments and even agriculture. But major storms, including the infamous Ash Wednesday in 1933, drove the few residents left off the islands to the mainland. The final village on the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands, the Broadwater Village on Hogg Island, was the subject of a documentary by the Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo. Constantly shifting, over the years the islands have withered in size.

The Eastern Shore Regional Navigational Waterways Committee’s mission is two fold, oversee the Eastern Shore’s needed dredging of navigable creeks and use the spoils in ways beneficial to the Eastern Shore.

Chaired by John Joeckel of Wachapreague, the group has been advocating for additional funds from the Federal government for use by the Army Corps of Engineers and the state government for use by the Waterways Maintenance Fund (WMF) to maintain the waterways of the Commonwealth.

“Most people do not realize that the federal government & the Corps of Engineers have no responsibility for maintaining the non-federally designated waterways of the Eastern Shore.  Those not federally designated need to be maintained by the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Joeckel. “Until 2018, there was no established funding mechanism to maintain state waterways.  The ESRNWC wrote the Waterway Maintenance Fund, which was pushed by Senator Lewis & Delegate Bloxom in the 2018 General Assembly, passed and signed by Governor McAuliffe.  Administered by the Virginia Port Authority, we now have $1.49 million/year to spend for the entire state, whereas we need at least $10 million”

The shoaling of the Eastern Shore’s channels threatens the aquaculture and tourism industries, which requires deep enough water for boat traffic. 

Cedar Island Marsh Restoration Project

An image showing the proposed marsh restoration project and the various waterways under Federal and State control. Dourtesy of Chris Hein with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

The ESRNWC is heading up the dredging projects while the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences(VIMS) is lead on the Cedar Island project. Phase 1 of their research has recently been completed using a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. VIMS was recently unsuccessful to get an approved grant for Phase 2.Chris Hein, who is the head of the Cedar Island project, hopes to reapply for the funds in 2021.

Such projects have been implemented with success. Recently, the marsh on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Delaware Bay was successfully restored with a similar plan. Decades ago, dredged material was used to build Port Isabel on the north side of Tangier Island, which now has trees populating the former spoil site.

Using spoils from dredging is not without its controversies. Debate ensued over how to best use the spoils from the tunnel boring for the new Thimble Shoals Tunnel on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in 2017. Initial proposals included using it to bolster Tangier Island’s southern tip or the Wallops Island Flight Facility. A spoil site near Eastville was also considered. However, tests came back indicating the material exceeded the pollutant thresholds set by the EPA. These spoils are now going to Chesapeake for the most part.

“I do not anticipate any actual physical implementation until 2022 at the earliest and all depends upon VIMS getting the necessary grant,” Joeckel added. “We estimate that this total project cost will be in the $10 million range composed of both Federal and Commonwealth funds.”

Such a project would provide two obvious benefits for the Eastern Shore: keeping our navigable waterways open, providing a direct benefit to our economy, and bolstering Cedar Island, which would provide net benefits to our ecosystem.

This article was amended to clarify there is no appeal on the denial of funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

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