Erosion on the banks of Whites Neck Creek was creeping within 5 feet of a county road in Bushwood, until a new project to stop it was installed this spring.
While there was cooperation going into the project between St. Mary’s County government and a private landowner, there is disagreement on the results so far.
The common practice to stop erosion used to be creating revetments, piles of large rocks on the shoreline to break the waves and absorb the tides. But now the state prefers that landowners install “living shorelines,” which adds another benefit besides shielding land from erosion.
The St. Mary’s County government’s project along Gibson Road off Whites Neck Road added some revetment to protect the street, but has a large living shoreline component.
Zane Rettstatt, engineer with the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, said he is pleased with how it’s turned out.
“I enjoy seeing things evolve like that and see it work as it’s designed to do,” he said on a site visit this month. “It came in under budget and on time.”
However, Richard Lord, the landowner who is adding another section of the living shoreline said the project is not to his satisfaction.
It protects Gibson Road, but it is not working as it should as a living shoreline, he said.
“The taxpayers didn’t get their money’s worth out of it,” he said. “It’s not a true living shoreline.”
Looking at an aerial photo of the peninsula at the dead-end road, Rettstatt said that about a dozen homes would have been cut off if Gibson Road started falling into the creek. “You can see how critical it was” to get the road shored up, he said.
Before the recent work was done, some concrete slabs were haphazardly strewn about on the steep bank before, and animals dug into the banks, destabilizing the shore. “The groundhogs were really bad,” he said. The revetment work has since driven them off.
Standard revetment was installed closest to the road to stabilize the land, which connected to older riprap on a neighboring property.
Then a stone sill was placed 30 feet out from the shore into the water, Rettstatt said, and was backfilled with sand, planted with two kinds of grasses — providing for a living shoreline.
There are two “windows” along the revetment that allow the water to fill in during high tide, which inundates half of the grassy sand behind it, providing habitat to marine life.
“You’re basically giving back what people have lost over the years” to erosion, Rettstatt said. The grasses have grown well during the past month, when work was completed, he said.
“Almost a year from now it’ll be a nice marsh,” providing habitat for ducks, turtles and other creatures, he said. However, geese are discouraged. There is netting up now to keep them out of the new marsh so they don’t eat the grasses.
The public works department’s project was 260 feet long and cost $99,650, through a 15-year loan, interest-free loan from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Lord’s project will be 370 feet at a cost of $108,000 through the same loan fund.
St. Mary’s County government paid for the plan for both sections. “It didn’t cost me anything, but it is my property and taxpayer money went into it and I gotta live with it,” Lord said. He serves on two county commissioner-appointed boards and works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
St. Mary’s County government’s project should be four feet farther out into the creek, Lord said, to allow more water in behind the sill for a longer period of time. Being four feet shorter than it should reduces the marshland section by 25 percent, he said. “No self-respecting crab is going to go behind there,” he said, because tidal water won’t remain in that area as long as it should.
And the county’s portion of the work uses smaller rock than the plan called for, Lord said. The county was allowed to use 20-pound, minimum-weight stone while the minimum weight should be 100 pounds, he said. “The first big storm is going to blow out the smaller stones.”
George Erichsen, the county’s director of public works and transportation, said the Maryland Department of Natural Resources “approved the construction in the field,” of the county’s project. “It’s fine. It operates perfectly well.”