Port of Charleston, Making Room for More Cargo
Port of Charleston - Making Room for More Cargo
In 2005, NOAA Fisheries became involved in the National Environmental Policy Act and essential fish habitat consultation processes for the proposed construction of a marine container terminal, where ships deliver cargo from around the world, at the former U.S. Navy base located along the Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina.
Essential fish habitats within the terminal expansion area include salt marsh, tidal creeks, and oysters which act as nursery habitat for fisheries. For example, larvae and juvenile fish and invertebrates (such as white shrimp, brown shrimp, snappers and groupers) will grow in the estuary until they are big enough to move offshore. The fishing industry then harvests these animals for human consumption and use.
When complete, 10.5 acres of salt marsh, 2.4 acres of freshwater wetlands, and 56.6 acres of open-water will be filled and 65 million cubic yards of sediment will be dredged from 77.9 acres of unconsolidated bottom within the Cooper River.
Site of Charleston Navy Base Terminal
Upon completion, the $700 million marine terminal will include approximately 288 acres (or 221 football fields) and will support areas to check, process, store, and transport incoming cargo.
Together, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and South Carolina State Ports Authority conducted a full environmental impact analysis in an Environmental Impact Statement and the Ports Authority received their permit from the USACE for those impacts in 2007. Phase I is set to open in 2019.
The USACE, Environmental Protection Agency, and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control require compensatory mitigation for impacts to wetlands from projects they authorize. That is, if wetlands such as salt marsh are impacted by a project, the person or company impacting the habitat must replace that habitat somewhere else.
For this project, NOAA dedicated much effort to working with multiple environmental and permitting agencies to assist the Ports Authority in developing a suitable mitigation plan. As a result, the Ports Authority has committed to a multi-million dollar mitigation plan to offset environmental impacts of the project, including:
- Donating $1 million to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources SCORE program to restore and enhance more than five acres of oyster reefs in and around Charleston Harbor.
- Restoring 22 acres of tidal marsh along the southern tip of Drum Island in lower Charleston Harbor at a cost of $3 million.
- Dedicating $1 million to assist the Trust for Public Land in preserving a 126-acre tract on Morris Island, the site of a major battle in the Civil War (total cost of the tract is $3 million).
- Contributing $1 million to help the Cooper River Initiative, which is seeking to protect more than 15,000 acres of land within the East Branch area of the Cooper River.
- Donating a three-acre parcel of land valued at $975,000 for the benefit of the Clemson University Restoration Institute, which focuses on developing restoration industries and environmentally sustainable technologies within the state of South Carolina.
- Donating up to $1 million to the Wildlife Trust to fund addition aerial surveys of the northern right whale population.
- Buying mitigation bank credits to offset the impact of 2.4 acres of freshwater wetlands.
Of these, the first two components are considered compensatory mitigation for impacts to essential fish habitat. The oyster restoration work involved loose shell instead of bagged shell (see below); this work is complete and is considered highly successful - the reefs are stable and recruiting new growth.
Oyster shells are deployed from a contractor's barge using a high pressure water cannon at high tide. Shoreline areas are marked with PVC poels at low tide.
Drum Island Restoration Project
(Click to enlarge photo)
The conceptual design of the Drum Island restoration project began in 2005; however, it was not until January 2015 that a final design plan was approved by NOAA and other environmental agencies. The initial plan did not include performance standards and was vague on how monitoring would be conducted. In response, the USACE Charleston District Interagency Review Team began to develop guidance for Clean Water Act permit applicants on tidal marsh mitigation plans, including standardized performance standards and monitoring protocols. Work is slated to begin within the year. NOAA will monitor the progress of the restoration work and success benchmarks.