Portsmouth -- The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) has started developing about 16 acres of oyster reef in the Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek as part of the environmental plan accompanying the Craney Island Eastward Expansion project.
The project will restore essential oyster habitat that historically made the Elizabeth River one of the most highly-productive oyster populations in Hampton Roads. The project is Phase 2 of a $63 million, 411-acre environmental restoration project that will serve to offset the impacts associated with the Craney Island Eastward Expansion project. The Army Corps’ and the VPA completed Phase I, an 11-acre wetland creation project at Paradise Creek Park in Portsmouth, last November.
The goal of the plan is to restore habitat and benthic productivity to a portion of the Elizabeth River using a “landscape approach” which allows all three habitat elements to thrive and sustain each other each. The reefs will be built in areas close to future or existing sediment restoration and wetland creation areas.
The Phase II project’s goal is to restore a remnant of the historic Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek oyster population and create oyster reefs that are living and sustainable, said Doug Martin, the Corps’ Norfolk District project manager.
“There have been encouraging signs that the native oyster population is being restored in areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that the Corps has constructed reefs,” Martin said. “The Great Wicomico (MD) and Lynnhaven rivers are examples of the Corps’ successful self-sustaining oyster projects. The current mitigation project will provide another opportunity to demonstrate that oyster restoration can be sustained in the Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek.”
Sixteen acres of subaqueous habitat are proposed to be covered with layers of shell, so the height of the reefs after post-construction settlement will be approximately 12 to 16 inches thick.This layer will serve as the reef base throughout the proposed mitigation. The goal is to have a reef footprint approximately one-foot off the river bottom. Materials such as granite or limestone marl will also be placed on the shell base of the reefs in the prescribed depths. This process will avoid excessive air exposure of structures during the tidal cycle.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is a supporter of the project and acted as an advisor to the Army Corps’ regarding options for materials that could be used in building the base of the reef.
In areas where little or no shell exists, constructing the reefs will result in the conversion of a soft substrate habitat into the desired hard substrate habitat. As shell and additional materials are placed in areas where historical oyster reefs were once located, this process will allow the river bottom to return to its natural state, providing habitat refuge from foraging predators.
“This project is a component of the largest environmental project ever undertaken for the Elizabeth River and its surrounding tributaries,” said Heather Wood, the VPA’s environmental director. “This is a 10-year multi-project plan that carries the support of the Army Corps’ and some of the region’s most important environmental organizations. It is exciting news that we’re about to begin on the oyster reef, but there are many more projects coming.”
The $3.6-million Elizabeth River and Hoffler Creek Oyster Restoration project was awarded to Precon Marine Inc., of Chesapeake. Norfolk District will manage the construction project, which is set for completion by spring 2014.
For photos of the reef under construction go to: