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Watershed group to build 3-D reefs

The St. Mary’s River Watershed Association is betting on new oyster reefs as a way to revive the bivalve population and clean the water in the process.
Bob Lewis, executive director of the watershed association, said the group was granted permits that allow it to plant oysters on five acres of the river. Lewis, during a Capital Design Advisory meeting at the college, provided Wednesday an update on the project, which partners with St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the Leonardtown Rotary Club.
Lewis said the association does not have a lease on the area, although some of the sanctuary may be up for grabs for watermen or others to lease from the state for oyster harvesting.
“All it is is a permit to build structure on state property,” Lewis said, refering to the oyster reefs that the group plans to build.
The five acres are located in an area of the river roughly across from the college’s admissions office, and will be split in half as a way to compare three-dimensional reefs to flat-bottom oyster restoration, he said.
The three-dimensional reefs involve dumping concrete rubble and other hard material as well as reef balls made from concrete to build up from the water’s bottom. This, Lewis said, will likely allow oysters to thrive because they are higher in the water column to avoid silt and sediment.
The permit allows the group to build up the bottom to within a foot of the mean low tide of the river. Lewis said the area would be marked with buoys, but that boats that can navigate within a foot of water are still allowed to traverse the reef area.
He said that trotlining and fishing would still be allowed in the area, and that crabs and fish would likely flourish in the reef habitat.
The flat-bottom or traditional restoration area involves putting down a thick layer of oyster shell to create a hard bottom for oyster spat, which are baby oysters, to attach to and grow.
The environmental group does have the right to pull up small amounts of oysters for research purposes, but cannot sell them, Lewis said.
“It is for ecological and educational purposes only,” Lewis said.”We will not be harvesting and marketing oysters off the site.”
Biology professors Bob Paul and Chris Tanner designed the project with the help of some of their students.
Paul said the three-dimensional reefs will replicate the oyster reefs that existed hundreds of years ago before they were flattened by oyster harvests and shell harvests.
“It changed the underwater landscape,” Paul said.
He expects the three-dimensional reefs to perform better based on literature and other research on restoration efforts, noting the better water circulation and that sediment will “roll off” the reef structures.
He hopes to determine the best restoration method through studying the reef over the next few years.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is taking a long-term look at what new facilities it needs. So far that includes a new auditorium, new science and arts classroom space and possibly a new stadium.

On Wednesday college staff gave updates on those and other building projects already in the works during a Capital Design Advisory committee open house and meeting.

Among the projects moving forward are safety improvements along the Route 5 section through campus and the replacement of Anne Arundel Hall.

The highway project, which is several years in the works, has been scaled back considerably due to funding and requests by State Highway Administration, but will still involve narrowing the car lanes, adding bicycle and pedestrian pathways, increasing lighting and other improvements. It is funded by $1 million in federal money. Medians separating north and south travel lanes were originally planned on Route 5 through campus but will not be constructed.

The improvements are meant to help bring drivers down to the actual speed limits through campus, which is 30 mph at the location where the work will be done. The intersection of Trinity Church Road and Route 5 will also be realigned to provide more of a 90-degree turn.

Chip Jackson, associate vice president for planning and facilities, said the college is going ahead with plans to build a walking path and boardwalk along Route 5 to the north recreation fields. That work could be done in 2014 if the college can secure a grant from the state.

Jackson said demolition should begin next summer of the Anne Arundel Hall academic building, which sits between Route 5 and the State House, and construction of its replacement could begin the following year. The new classroom buildings, which include archaeology lab and storage space, will hopefully be open by the 2016 fall semester, he said.

Luke Mowbray, facilities planner and sustainability coordinator, said that the college is not projecting any growth in enrollment, which stands at about 2,000, through at least 2026, but that there are still some additional needs for residential space on campus as needs and wants shift.

Each year there is a high demand from students for rooms in the college’s townhomes, and less demand for space at the four aging dormitory buildings on campus.

St. Mary’s College’s largest auditorium space is the 200-seat St. Mary’s Hall. The plan includes building a new 700-seat auditorium.

Art classes are currently being held in hallways and other non-classroom spaces in the college’s Montgomery Hall. That needs to change, college officials said, as the interest in arts continues to grow.

Mowbray said that he hopes people will continue to offer feedback as the master plan is finalized over this winter and next spring. The plan will outline facility needs through 2026.

A new stadium could be constructed across Mattapany Road from the main campus where some practice fields currently exist. Jackson said preliminary plans involve a center seating area that faces two fields, one regular grass and the other synthetic turf.

The synthetic turf field would primarily be used for the women’s field hockey team, and perhaps by the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The natural grass field would be used by the men’s and women’s soccer teams, Jackson said.

Several projects at neighboring Historic St. Mary’s City are also moving forward, while the planned visitor’s center that is to be located next to Anne Arundel Hall still remains in limbo after it was pushed out of the state’s capital improvements plan for the next several years.

A new storage barn that might also be used as a woodshop for museum repairs is set to go up next spring to replace a barn that burned down Jan. 2, 2009. That barn could eventually be used for workshops and other public projects, Regina Faden, executive director of the museum, said.

The college and museum have been steadily renovating the Chancellor’s Point nature center, which was heavily damaged after a truck ran into the building years ago, Jackson said.

The building is now being used for college programs and classes and could eventually be used for workshops and other events. Road improvements to the building are planned for this spring as well as a path and ramp that will allow visitors easy access to the beach, thanks to an Americans with Disabilities Act grant.