Grants Worth $1.2 Million Propel Elizabeth River Restoration

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia, January 20, 2008 (ENS) – Funding to remove contaminated sediment from a river at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and help reduce toxics and nutrients in stormwater runoff was presented to the Elizabeth River Project Thursday after the group was chosen in two separate grant competitions.

EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh Thursday presented two grants totaling nearly $1.2 million to the Elizabeth River Project to improve water quality and create 10 miles of restored habitat along the southern branch of the Elizabeth River

Welsh made the presentation at the group’s annual River Star luncheon at the Founders Inn in Virginia Beach.

“Integrating these two grants creates a synergy that will empower the Elizabeth River Project to clean up and restore some of the nation’s most contaminated sediments. These funds will also help mobilize River Star industries in partnership to prevent pollution, while enhancing critical aquatic habitat,” said Welsh.

The Elizabeth River Project is a community-based watershed group dedicated to restoring the Elizabeth River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in southeastern Virginia.

The grants were a $902,500 Targeted Watershed Initiative Grant, and a Community Action for a Renewed Environment, CARE, Grant of $284,000. Combined, they total the largest amount of funding in the group’s 17 year history.

The funds will be used to reduce contamination and restore water quality in the Money Point section of Chesapeake, Virginia. In addition, the grants will support environmental projects at 10 Money Point industrial facilities.

A national panel reviewed 104 projects from around the country that were nominated for a share of $13.4 million in funding to restore and protect watersheds. The Elizabeth River Project is one of 16 organizations selected for funding.

The CARE program received 127 grant proposals, of which the Elizabeth River Project is one of the 22 chosen.

The Elizabeth River is one of the world’s largest natural harbors for military and commercial shipping and at the same time is an important tidal estuarine habitat for blue crabs, striped bass, and other species.

The Money Point area of the
Lower Elizabeth River (Photo
courtesy EPA)

Scientists have said for years that the Elizabeth River will not be restored to health until some of the highest levels of bottom sediment contamination in the world are cleaned up. These levels cause rates of cancer of up to 70 percent in resident mummichog fish and leave areas of the river bottom entirely lifeless.

Intensive restoration of the river’s contaminated bottom since 1997 has yielded some positive results according to the 2008 State of the Elizabeth River report.

Date issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Elizabeth River Monitoring Program shows a “dramatic decline” of tributyl tin over the past 20 years. The marine pesticide painted on boat hulls is lethal to aquatic life.

“This toxin in the late 1980s was 20 times higher than current levels for this harbor river,” the report states.

But the data also shows that dissolved oxygen is too low to support healthy life during the summer in the southern and eastern branches of the river. “This challenge is related to a combination of elevated nutrient levels, poor flushing and unnatural depth of the river.”

Other projects to remediate the Elizabeth River’s contaminated bottom at Money Point are already underway.

This 35 acre area at a bend in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River once flourished with shipping terminals, factories and wood treatment plants. The locals dubbed it Money Point for all the jobs and wealth it created.

But the riverine ecosystem collapsed under the weight of toxics, and Money Point became a biological dead zone.

Even though improving, the Elizabeth’s nutrient scores are still among the poorest on Chesapeake Bay, the 2008 report states.

“While the health of the river bottom is still unacceptable, the report states, “major progress is imminent through projects like the Money Point sediment remediation project, funded at $5 million by the Living River Restoration Trust and managed by the Elizabeth River Project.”

The sediments in this area are contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons associated with former wood treatment industries.

In October 2006, the Money Point Revitalization Task Force completed a 10 year plan to clean up and revitalize the area.

The project aims to restore 19 acres of river bottom, four acres of wetlands, and four acres of oyster reefs as one of the largest environmental restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay and the first community-led sediment cleanup project in the nation.

The 2008 State of the Elizabeth River report is online here [].

A complete list of awardees is available online at [] or []

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