We are keenly focused on the assessment impacts from the ship’s grounding and re-floating efforts on the environment – including oyster bars, fish spawning, commercial crabbing and fishing, dredge spoils placement, Bay water quality and ecosystem impacts due to dredging.
While both MDE and DNR are reviewing post dredging bathymetric surveys, impacts on flora and fauna, damage to natural oyster bars and crab habitat, water quality impacts, and mitigation requirement recommendations, we are also gathering information from our members about observable impacts on the environment and harvesting options.
Below are highlights of the issues we presented in our letter to the MDE and DNR regarding the dredging of Ever Forward: (you may also read the full letter HERE)
Disposal and Testing of Dredged Material
In obtaining the License to dredge, all dredged material was to be disposed of on an upland placement cell at Poplar Island. Heather Nelson of MDE stated that there was no additional testing of materials, other than what was required under the general USACE permit for routine shipping channel dredging, on the assumption that what was being dredged by the contractor to free the ship was similar to routine channel dredge materials.
We have stated that this is a false assumption. The exhibits to the License show the dredging locations to be outside of the channel. Experienced commercial watermen believe that the Bay bottom areas that were dredged to free the ship had not been disturbed for decades and may be the site of industrial waste dumping years ago. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the dredged material taken to Poplar Island by the Licensee has a noxious odor and was not subject to any testing. Reports also indicate that the materials were placed at a special location on Poplar Island due to the characteristics of the dredged materials.
Questionnable Mitigation Efforts
A special condition of the License recommended “to deploy and maintain a turbidity curtain around the work area while dredging from April 1 to June 1…” due to impacts on anadromous fish. Ms. Nelson stated this curtain was available and “on standby” to contain suspended solids. It is unclear whether a curtain was used or not. In our letter, we have asked whether such a curtain was used, when, where and for how long. If the curtain was not used, we asked if this decision by the Licensee to not limit water quality degradation would be factored into the mitigation requirements.
Comparison with Man O’War
The permit to dredge natural shell from Man O’War Shoals was reviewed and approved by USACE, NOAA, NMFS, USCG and MDE, and since May 2018 has been held up by the Board of Public Works due to claimed environmental impact concerns (i.e., impact on benthic zone and downstream water quality due to dredging plumes). In year 1 of the 5-year Provisional Permit to dredge shell from Man O’War Shoals, activity is limited to the seasonal collection of baseline environmental data on water quality, oyster populations, and fish and benthic communities – before any dredging.
We asked the MDE and DNR what sort of data collection regarding water quality, benthic zone, fish/fauna was conducted before the large-scale dredging to refloat the ship was carried out. As Man O’War Shoals is just a few nautical miles upstream from the Ever Forward dredging site, we perceive the message to be clear – the stream of shipping commerce matters most.
We also mentioned our observation noting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s feigned concern about the dredging to refloat the ship, compared to their intensive opposition to dredging shell from Man O’War Shoals for reasons such as impacts to the benthic zone and downstream water quality due to plumes from dredging.
We have asked that the spurious environmental reasons to not dredge Man O’War Shoals stop when there are so many benefits to be gained Bay wide with readily available natural oyster shells.