MARYLAND DREDGING SPOILS TO RESTORE HISTORIC ISLAND

MARYLAND DREDGING SPOILS TO RESTORE HISTORIC ISLAND

Little remains now of Poplar Island. Just four mounds of grasses and a few trees, four acres or less rapidly disappearing from the pounding of wind and waves.

But sometime next year, state and federal officials hope to begin rebuilding the island using a mixture of sand and silt that the Maryland Port Administration dredges up from the Chesapeake Bay bottom to keep shipping channels open.The plan is to restore the island basically to its mid-1800s outline, when it totaled 1,100 acres, said Mike Hart, project manager for the port administration.

Over the next 20 years, the state expects to pump 30 to 40 million cubic yards of mud behind sand dikes reinforced with stone to create 550 acres of wetlands and 550 acres of upland forest rising 30 feet or more above the water.

In the 1600s, the island a few miles off Talbot County measured about 1,500 acres. It was briefly occupied by the British during the War of 1812 and was, according to legend, for a short time the residence of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a thriving settlement with farms, a school and a store. But by that time, storms had divided the island into three islands - Poplar, Jefferson's and Coaches.

In the 1900s, a Democratic club was built on Jefferson's Island, and Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman both made trips to the islands for hunting, fishing and recreation.

Without the restoration project, an island with a rich history would soon disappear, said Lee Crockett of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When the island is restored, no development of homes or presidential retreats will be allowed. It will be restored as nearly as possible to a natural state, with the wetlands and trees serving as breeding and feeding grounds for marine life and birds.

With many bay islands steadily eroding away, habitat is slowly disappearing, forcing birds to the mainland where they are under pressure from people and natural predators, he said.

The port administration's practice of dumping dredged spoils into bay waters has been criticized by environmentalists, who say the silt and sand smother oyster and clam beds and damage underwater vegetation.

The proposal to use Poplar Island, by contrast, has backing from such groups as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Waterman's Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sporting Association and the Maryland Charter Boat Association as well as state and federal agencies.

"It's an unprecedented coalition that has found an innovative solution to a nagging problem in the bay," said Rod Coggin, spokesman for the bay foundation.

"It may not be the best solution, but it's a pretty good one to restore some habitat and restore some wetlands," he said.

Funding for the $50 million project is not settled. Originally, the federal government was to pay 75 percent of the cost, but it is now unlikely that

funds will be available from the Republican-controlled Congress.

The port administration is now seeking state funding for the project, Mr. Hart said.