Monday, March 14, 2011

Marsh Restoration proposed on lower Escatawpa and Deer Island

Marsh restoration planned in 2 Mississippi Department of Marine Resources projects

Proposed marsh restoration projects on the lower Escatawpa River and the northeast corner of Deer Island are the restart of a 2002 plan to use dredged material to nurture the coast's ecosystem, said a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources official.

The eastern end of Deer Island is seen from Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
"This is all about trying to capture as much dredged material from as many projects as possible," said George Ramseur of the department's Office of Coastal Ecology.

The program intends to have sites in all 3 coast counties where dredge material can be used to rebuild marsh instead of it being hauled away, he said.

In some cases, dredged material has been dumped offshore or into landfills, he said.

"If we dig that material out and completely remove it from the system, then we have automatically lost right up front," Ramseur said. "What we are doing will at least provide some interim recovery and it will help us."

Ramseur cited Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality studies that found that the state lost about 8,500 acres of marsh between 1950 and 1990.

"The lower Escatawpa River is an area that has seen particularly high rates of this marsh loss. This project is designed to re-establish some of this lost marsh, which is so critical for both recreational and commercial fisheries' productivity."

Another advantage is that using dredge material for such projects can be less expensive "than it is to basically throw it away," he said.

About 10 acres of marsh on the Escatawpa River just west of the Mississippi 613 bridge in Moss Point could be restored using material from a nearby commercial site, according to the permit application.

The request is to place 24,000 cubic yards of bucket-dredged material into water bottoms typically less than 1.5 feet deep, the permit application states.

Ramseur said a number of things cause marsh loss, but the Escatawpa River has been dredged for navigation and that changes the way the river carries and distributes sediment.

"What we do know is that any material removed by dredging or other means needs to go back into the system, preferably as close to the source as possible," he said. "Marsh is one of the most valuable coastal habitats, so that is our first choice for which to use the material."

The Deer Island project plans to create about 50 acres of tidal marsh and dredge-filled habitat on the northeast shore, which is currently water bottoms and pine-grass uplands.

Depending on the need for wave protection, the 3,200-foot-long and 12-foot-wide dike will end in open water or curve about 600 feet southwest to rejoin Deer Island, stated a DMR news release. The dike may be left open if turbidity is not high, the news release stated.

The area within the dike is intended to hold about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material over a 10-year period or until all available capacity has been filled, it stated.

The Escatawpa River and Deer Island sites will be allowed to naturally re-vegetate, but plantings may be made, the permit applications state. "The Escatawpa project is really the first standalone new permit for the program and this 50-acre Deer Island permit is the second," Ramseur said.

"We are kind of working our way through the process with the other agencies," he said.

Both applications state that a variance to a Mississippi Coastal Program guideline discouraging permanent filling of coastal wetlands is required. The permit applications go before the state Commission on Marine Resources. There's no timetable as to when the commission would review the applications.

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