Wetlands on John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge to be Restored
Oiled duck being held as evidence for Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds. USFWS photo.
On November 26, 2004, a large cargo vessel, the Athos I, struck a submerged anchor while docking at the Citgo Refinery in Paulsboro, NJ. The single-hulled vessel released 265,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Delaware River.
As part of the natural resource damage assessment, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other Trustees determined that 3,628 acres of shoreline, 412 acres of benthic habitat, 11,869 birds, and 41,709 fish were lost or injured as a result of this spill.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the other natural resource Trustees, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, received $27.5 million dollars from the U.S. Coast Guard Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to restore natural resources and lost recreational uses.
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Trustees were tasked with identifying actions to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent natural resources injured as a result of an oil spill.
Fifty-two potential restoration projects were considered and eventually 9 preferred projects, involving marsh restoration, dam removal, oyster reef creation, shoreline restoration, boat ramp improvements, and trail enhancement, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware were identified.
Fifty-two-acre wetland restoration project on the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS image.
One of those projects is the restoration of a 56-acre wetland on John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania This wetland was used as a dredge disposal site by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers between the 1950s-mid-1960s. The dredge material is from the Delaware River.
Parts of the area have already been restored. The remaining area contains 2-4 feet of fill with minimal tidal flow. Phragmites, an invasive plant species, has colonized the area but has been chemically treated for several years.
The Chesapeake Bay Field Office proposed a plan to restore the dredge cell back into a functioning wetland. The conceptual design includes the excavation of a series of channels or guts and pools, and placing the spoil adjacent to the pools to form saturated scrub/shrub wetlands. The purpose of the channels is to improve tidal exchange to the interior of the marsh.
A 7-acre complex of islands and wetlands will enhance the marsh habitat for reptiles, including the state threatened red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris), and waterfowl, as well as create roosting areas for wading birds.
The new wetland will also help to improve water quality. Fish species, including American shad (Alosa sapidissima), American eel (Anguilla rostrata), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), alewife, (A. pseudoharengus) and blueback herring (A. aestivalis), inhabit refuge waters.
Designs and planning for this project will be completed this year and with construction set to begin in 2012.