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Navy's shoreline project is largest in Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The remains of an asphalt road follow the edge of a crumbling bluff towering 30 feet above the river's edge below. Pieces of concrete building slabs are all that's left of former technical facilities that had to be vacated and demolished because of the encroaching shoreline.

The Naval Support Facility (NSF), Indian Head, Md., situated on a long peninsula bounded by the Potomac River and the pristine Mattawoman Creek watershed, was losing about one-and-a-half feet of real estate per year along stretches of the base's 17 miles of waterfront.


But, thanks to emergency congressional funding and with the support of local and regional conservation groups, the Navy has embarked on the largest shoreline stabilization project in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

"The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, and the shoreline restoration at Indian Head is one of many projects in which DOD is investing to revitalize the bay," said Donald Schregardus, environmental deputy assistant Secretary of the Navy. "The project also represents a significant long-term investment in the Indian Head facility and community."

At the average annual erosion rate of 1.5 feet per year, approximately 12,000 cubic yards of sediment per year was entering the surrounding waterways. NSF Indian Head developed a shoreline management plan in 2002 that surveyed shoreline erosion along the installation's waterfront.

With the support of the Southern Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Board and the Charles Soil Conservation District, work began in November 2007 with the construction of a series of breakwaters and sills along approximately 3,500 feet of the eastern shore of the Potomac River. These stabilization efforts will greatly reduce or eliminate impacts of wave action on the shoreline. As a result, approximately 2,900 feet of shoreline will naturally stabilize.

In addition, extensive erosion along a 600-foot section of the stabilized shoreline required bank grading to stabilize the slope and protect two office buildings within 35 feet of the top of the shoreline.

Behind the breakwaters and sills, an area of nearly 11 acres was backfilled to create more than an acre of intertidal vegetated wetland habitat and 9.5 acres of wetland habitat suitable for scrub-shrub, riparian floodplain forest and upland trees and shrubs.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, through a partnership with NSF Indian Head, mobilized volunteers for two field planting events to complete the first phase of the shoreline project. For the first event in July 2008, more than 40 participants spent two days to place 10,000 wetland plants along approximately 1,700 feet of Potomac River shoreline. Plantings occurred in the intertidal wetland zone created by placing sediment behind the sills and breakwater that have been constructed in the initial phase of the shoreline restoration project.

In a second field planting event that spanned four days this month, more than 70 volunteers from communities throughout Maryland and Virginia labored to plant native wetland grasses, shrubs and trees.

David Nemerson, conservation biologist for the National Aquarium who directed the four-day project, estimated that volunteers logged a total of nearly 1,000 hours of labor.

"We typically work on three or four projects a year of this size and scope," he explained. "But we tend to do more in Chesapeake Bay proper," as opposed to freshwater tributaries like the Potomac, he added.

Altogether, between the two field events, the volunteers placed 15,000 wetland plants in the intertidal zone of the shoreline as well as 1,400 trees and shrubs in a riparian floodplain zone.

The riparian floodplain zone extends from the mean high water line to the toe of the existing slope of the shoreline. This area, once revegetated, will increase protection of the toe of the existing slope, enhance wildlife habitat and improve water quality.

In the broadest perspective, said Schregardus, "This project is good for the Chesapeake Bay, the surrounding environment, the Indian Head community and the economy."

Story and photo by Gary R. Wagner, Naval Support Activity South Potomac, Indian Head, Md.
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Title Annotation:This Just In
Author:Wagner, Gary R.
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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