Earmark to fund using dredged material to restore Tangier

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Sen. TIm Kaine and Rep. Elaine Luria prepare to board the Joyce Marie II in Onancock on Wednesday, Aug. 31, for a trip to Tangier. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Elaine Luria traveled to Tangier Wednesday morning, leaving from the Onancock wharf on the Joyce Marie II, the ferry piloted by Capt. Mark Crockett.

Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner successfully helped secure more than $25 million in the latest text of the fiscal year 2023 Senate appropriations bills for the Army Corps of Engineers’ beneficial use pilot project on Tangier.

The project is among congressionally directed spending items, or earmarks, the senators requested in the fiscal year 2023 Energy and Water appropriations bill.

Additional funding recommended in the legislation for the Baltimore Harbor and Channels dredging project is to pay for “environmental coordination as well as plans and specifications to add Tangier Island as a beneficial use placement site for dredged material,” according to an explanatory statement about the bill.

Once passed by Congress and signed into law, this funding would support efforts to help Tangier address loss of habitat and eroding shoreline issues caused by sea level rise, recurrent coastal flooding, and coastal storms, according to Kaine.

The money would go to pay for using dredge spoils from federal navigation projects near Tangier to help build up the island.

Kaine said Wednesday the challenge in getting federal funding for Tangier in the past has been due mainly to the town’s small population.

“It was really the restarting of the earmark process” that made the funding for Tangier land restoration possible, he said, noting the project fits within an existing, authorized Army Corps program to use dredging material “in a productive way.”

“The nice thing about earmarks is that you can kind of make the case to your appropriators that, hey, this might be a small number of people but this is … on the national register of historic places. So you can kind of make your case to your colleagues,” Kaine said, adding the senators submitted the funding for Tangier as an earmark as “our number one priority this year.”

For the funding to become reality, the appropriations legislation must be approved by the Senate, then the House of Representatives.

Having the support of Rep. Elaine Luria “will be very helpful,” Kaine said, noting, “I’ve got to have somebody on the House side who is going to battle for it as much as I am.”

“We have a real good chance of getting it done. And the nice thing is, $25 million — that is a sizeable earmark,” Kaine said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates if action is not taken, Tangier could be basically uninhabitable within 50 years due to erosion, which is widely thought to be caused by sea level rise due to climate change. The island currently shrinks by some 15 feet each year, according to the Corps.

In a November 2021 article in the journal Frontiers, David Schulte and Zehao Wu said local sea level rise “has rapidly accelerated in recent decades” and predicted Tangier’s upland landmass could be completely converted to wetlands by 2051.

“Being an offshore island, Tangier does not have a significant source of sand, unlike a barrier island,” they wrote.

Among measures the authors recommended to increase Tangier’s longevity is using dredged material to raise the elevation of wetlands and enhance vegetative growth, which they estimate will cost $5,000 to $10,000 per hectacre.

The authors noted Poplar Island, an uninhabited Bay island in Maryland, was restored from five acres in 1993 to around 1,715 acres by using dredged material from the Baltimore Harbor shipping channel.

“That Poplar Island is being restored as a wildlife habitat, and is not intended for permanent human settlement, while the continuing decline of Tangier Island and its Town proceeds, is a source of much consternation in the Town populace,” the authors wrote.

Kaine in 2017 pushed for Tangier to be included in a pilot program for beneficial use of dredged material, but the island ultimately was not selected.

It also took years to get public funding for a $3 million stone jetty to protect Tangier’s harbor. After funding finally was obtained, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract to build the jetty in May 2020.

The jetty is designed to help limit wave action in the channel and harbor where watermen have crab sheds. Limiting wave action helps reduce the risk of damage to the sheds and boats during storms, according to a 2020 press release from the Army Corps.

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