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Maryland Community Completes Sustainable Beach Restoration and Wildlife Habitat Project

A satellite view of the Little Magothy Channel and the adjacent main beach. The Chesapeake Bay approach channel is visible cutting through the sediment along the shoreline.

Posted on February 22, 2022

DredgeWire Exclusive 

by Judith Powers

Photos by Wes Matheu, Beau Breeden, and Joe Berg

The community of Cape St. Claire (CSC), Maryland is getting shoreline restoration it has been working toward for nearly a decade. The combination dredging, beach nourishment and habitat creation project was finished at the end of February after years of planning by community representatives, contractors, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

CSC is an unincorporated community of 8,000 residents where the Magothy River meets the Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Along the Bay shoreline is the entrance channel to the Little Magothy River (LMR), a 1000-foot(305m)community beach, and further northwest on Deep Creek, a small beach and marina.

The LMR is a Marylandwaterway reached through a 50-foot-wide(15.24 m), 675-foot-long(205.74m) bulkheaded entrance channel. It has a tidal fluctuation of about two feet, (.6 m)and is 2 ½ miles (4 km)long.  The community of CSC maintains a 25-slip small boat marina in the river and there are about 100 private boat docks at waterfront properties. An 1,100-foot (335-m)open-water approach channel is maintained at six feet (1.8 m)in a shallow part of the Chesapeake Bay.

In recent decades, the community beach has eroded to nothing in places, and the community was vulnerable to damaging storms and wave action. Besides the damaged beach, another small marina and beach on Deep Creek on the northwest border of CSC was severely eroded, while tide-borne sediment regularly made the marina inaccessible.

In 2014 Beau Breeden committed to leading the push to find and implement a solution to the environmental problems. A 35-year resident of the community, he had watched the area deteriorate and wanted to help. He joined the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association (CSCIA) and set about spearheading the project to mitigate the effects of sea level rise, tides, storms, and turbulence from traffic on the nearby Chesapeake Bay Ship Channel.

The challenge included locating outside funding as well as expertise that would provide answers to the problems the community faced.

In 2015, the group contracted the environmental consulting group BiohabitatsInc. to analyze the natural resources of the area, which included streams, wetlands, and shorelines, and to come up with a plan for a project to solve the degradation in the area.

Biohabitats is a multi-disciplinary company whose expertise is restoring ecosystems, conserving habitat, and regenerating natural systems. The company’s scope includes engagement with project owners, assessment, planning, engineering & design, construction, and monitoring.

Led by Restoration Ecologist Joe Berg, Biohabitats identified seven waterfront areas in need of restoration. The community chose to focus on the two most pressing ones – erosion and degradation at the main beach, and restoration of the shoreline at Deep Creek, named the Lake Claire area for a mostly land-locked lake in that area.

The final permits, planning and contracts were in place by the end of 2020, including from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Anne Arundel County for construction of the project on two sites, beginning with the main beach project (Site 1), followed by the Lake Claire project on Deep Creek (Site 2) to begin after completion of the first project. Work on Site 1 began in April 2021 with the construction of two headland breakwaters and planting of grasses on the beach for the Living Shoreline.

Periodic dredging of the LMR boat channels produces significant high-quality sand that if there isn’t a coordinated buyer, the dredging company the community must pay to haul away.  The community wanted to use a portion of the sand on their own beach restoration, and the Little Magothy River Association (LMRA) – residents of CSC with waterfront property on the river – lent its expertise to the CSCIA with soundings, sediment analysis and overall knowledge of the river, which is a tidal inlet with about a 2 ½ foot(.8m) tidal fluctuation. The group worked with the CSCIA and the contractors to provide information on sedimentation, sediment type and other information needed for permits and project planning.

“We estimate that 7,000 to 7,500 boaters use the channel annually, mostly in the summer,” said Steve Miller, Engineering Manager of the LMRA, who is also the Domestic Sales Manager for Ellicott Dredges of Baltimore.

“Non-LMR resident boaters frequently use the channel to enjoy its calm safe harbor conditions,” he said.Boaters use itas a safe anchor for swimming, crabbing, and fishing, skiing, and tubing, visiting friends or just exploring the river,”he said.

A special tax paid by the residents on the LMR is allocated for regular maintenance of the LMR channels. The channel has a total length of 1,731 feet(527.6 m). This includes the open water approach channel, inside the bulkheads and the inner LMR.

Because the community wanted to use 1200 cubic yards (917.4 m3)of maintenance material from the channel dredging for beach restoration, the decision was made to include that amount of dredging as part of the overall restoration contract. The shoreline placement option reduced the overall cost to LMR residents compared to earlier years when sand had to be transported and disposed of.

Berg submitted the final plan for both areas to the CSCIA in January 2016, and began working on acquiring permits, working closely with Beau Breedon and the CSCIA. Besides writing permit applications at the county, state and federal levels, the leaders spent time keeping the community up to date.

At that point Breeden and the improvement association realized that it was necessary to be represented by a recognized advocacy association in order to receive grant money. CSC had lost out on three grants that were awarded to Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (ACB) projects.

CSC had partnered with the Alliance in 2012 on a $100,000 grant for stream cleanup, so Breedon decided to explore a partnership for the beach project.

The ACB is thesecond largest non-profit in the Bay Watershed focused on Bay, stream, and forest buffers and as a community we enjoy working with their team, said Breeden.

In 2018 Breeden approached ACB’s executivedirector Kate Fritz about the possibility of partnering for some grant opportunities.

The Cape St. Claire project’s potential hundreds of feet of Living Shoreline, marsh creation, and wildlife habitat fit the ACB’s mission, and it came on board to help with grant and funding searches, and management services to hold and disperse the funds.

“Their team helped hone our grant applicants and act as our general contractor coordinating contracts with our engineers and construction contractors,” Breeden explained. The ACB takes a small percentage of the funds in payment for its services.

In June 2020, the ACB awarded Biohabitats a design-build contract for the project that including both areas. Biohabitats hiredthree sub-contractors: Wes Matheu of Shoreline Design,for the dredging, marine construction, and habitat creation; Albert McCullough of Sustainable Science, who helped with design at Site 1 and survey; and Griff Evans of Ecological Restoration and Management, for planting and goose exclusion fencing.

In April 2021, Matheu began building the two breakwaters – one at each end of the beach. The eastbreakwater comes off the LMR bulkhead and is140feet long (43 m)with a 50-foot-wide (15.24m)base. It will protect the shoreline against waves and tides, while tidal flow depositsnew sand on the beach. A 50-foot-long breakwater with a 24-foot (7m)base is at the west end of the beach, with a jetty halfway along the beach, all forming a protective cove around the beach.

The excavators have hydraulic thumbs for grabbing the rocks, and the operator must choose the best placement for each stone.

“It’s a challenge, and we have experienced people,” said Matheu.

On December 20, 2021, Matheu began dredging the LMR channel usinga barge-mounted Hitachi 470 hydraulic excavator loading onto barges to provide the required 1200 cubic yards (918m3)of material needed for the beach restoration.

“We worked the first 300 or 400 feet (91m to 122m)between the bulkheads” where the shoaling is the worst, he said. “There was just two or three feet (.6m to .9m)of water in places and our small crewboat was hitting bottom.”

The excavator is equipped with a Topcon GPS system and proprietary real time digging software programmed with the project parameters, which gives the operator a graphic of the working bucket.

A pushboat moved the loaded barges to the bulkhead where a Hitachi Longreach excavator loaded the sand into a 10-cubic-yard (7.6m3)rubber-tracked dump truck for transport up the beach. There the sand was leveled and graded using the company’s D-5 dozer. The land-based Longreach also removed shoaled sand from inside the bulkheads.

A heavier material – two parts sand and one part cobble – was placed on 100 feet (30m) of the Main Beach where tidal action was more damaging due to adjacent bulkheads reflecting wave energy. Matheu acquired the material, mixed it on site in barges and placed it to integrate with the rest of the 60-foot-(18m)-wide beach.

Half of the recreational beach — 500 feet (152m)– is devoted to Living Shoreline consisting of  wetland plantings to encourage wildlife. NOAA Fisheries defines a Living Shoreline asprotected, stabilized coastal edge made of natural materials such as plants, sand, or rock that allow the shoreline to grow over time. The shoreline provides wildlife habitat and natural resilience to communities near the waterfrontand is a cost-effective technique for coastal management.

Griff Evans and his Ecological Restoration and Management crew began planting native grasses in April 2021. Over fifteen hundred marsh grasses were planted to build off existing dune vegetation. More will be added this spring.

By the end of January 2022 Site 1 was complete and Matheu moved his equipment upstream to Site 2, where the crew began setting 40 “root wads”near the shore in the Deep Creek estuary. These are inverted hardwood trees driven 12 feet (3.6m)into the bottom, leaving the washed root ball at the top above and below mean high water to provide shade for fish and other aquatic species, and perches for sea birds.

Sea-ward of the root wads are three groupings of reefballs–a total of 45 hollow domes formed of marine-friendly concrete as the basis of an oyster reef. The balls are provided by The Reefball Foundation and Reef Innovations, which manufacture and distribute them. The domes are 24 inches (61cm)and 36 inches (91cm)in diameter and have holes throughout to allow organisms to access them. The contractor placed them according to the design, and their weight keeps them in place in the low-energy environment of Deep Creek. The tops of the structures are below mean low water (MLW) and will help form an oyster reef and associated wildlife habitat.

Joe Berg explained that “there are oysters, mussels and clams in the area and we expect the reefballs to support those organisms as well as providing fish cover. The Cape St Claire community will place oyster shell with spat on the reefballs for a few years to get that started. One challenge is this area has low tides during the winter and the low tides in combination with a bitter cold won’t help with oyster establishment. This will be something we watch,” he said.

Further up the creek, Matheu is installing a wall of interlocking sheet pile attached to the existing piling of the marina pier to inhibit tidal sediment encroachment into the marina. This is the final job in the project, and as of Feb. 25th the equipment will all be gone, said Breeden.

“It was me and a crew of six skilled men that completed the work,” said Matheu, commenting on a diverse job requiring innovation and expertise.

Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is an advocate for the Bay whose mission includes providing collaboration services, project design, funding search and project management for projects designed to prevent pollutants, sediment, and nutrients from entering the Bay. In its 63,000 square-mile (163,170 km2)watershed, the Chesapeake Bay is fed by more than 150 major rivers and streams from six states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the entire District of Columbia.

Nearly 1.9 million acres (.8 million hectares)of land in the watershed is impervious and allows stormwater runoff into local waterways and the Bay. The Alliance works with local communities to increase permeable surfaces to reduce runoff,  and on a larger level collaborates with communities “to build living shorelines, wetlands, and stream restoration projects, improving water quality, increasing biological diversity, and supporting healthy landscapes throughout the watershed,” according to the group’s mission statement.

For the CSC project, the Alliance applied for and secured a $298,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Anne Arundel Watershed Restoration Grant Program, which helped fund the initial work completed at Site 1 – marsh plantings and construction of two rock breakwaters, said Laura Todd, Cape St. Claire project manager for the ACB. This was done in partnership with the CSCIA, she said.

Grant funding from other sources was secured by the Alliance, while funding from state sources was managed by the CSCIA.

Total funding for the project included:

  • Chesapeake Bay Trust/ Anne Arundel County Grant – $298,000
  • State of Maryland Bond BIll & PAYGO Capital Grant Funds – $525,000
  • US Fish & Wildlife Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership Grant – $50,000
  • US Fish & Wildlife North Atlantic Wetlands Conservation Grant – $100,000
  • Cape St. Claire Improvement Association Inc- $854,500 over about seven years of cash flow and a loan.

“There are a number of communities across the region that are working towards similar goals, one in particular that is soliciting estimates for contract design for a Living Shoreline,” said Todd.

In 2021, ACB worked with Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the West River United Methodist Center to create a living shoreline and regenerative stormwater conveyance system at a 45-acre (18-hectare)retreat and camp facility, and there is a possibility of being awarded grant funding this spring for the design of five living shoreline projects (predominantly on agricultural land) in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Breeden said that other communities with similar projects have contacted him, and he consults with them about permitting, pricing, timelines, and other things to help them with their projects.

As the project is completed, the end of a nine year odyssey for Breedon, the association, the community and the contractors, Breeden said “I’m proud to say that the association has done this work not just for benefit of the community but for the Chesapeake Bay and the watershed we live in. I am interested to see how the fishing, crabbing and other benefits of the project develop in the future.”

“It was a nice win-win for everyone involved,” Miller added.


Cape St. Claire is flanked by the Little Magothy River (LMR) on the east and Deep Creek on the west, with a 1000-foot community beach along the shoreline. The project restored the beach, dredged the LMR channel, and created wildlife habitat on Deep Creek.


A satellite view of the Little Magothy Channel and the adjacent main beach. The Chesapeake Bay approach channel is visible cutting through the sediment along the shoreline.


High quality sand has been placed and graded on the main beach, as the dredge works offshore.


A Shoreline Design excavator places stone on the east breakwater in March 2021. The operator had to choose the best placement for each stone. “We have experienced people,” said owner Wes Matheu.


A flat barge is moored in the LMR channel while a Hitachi Longreach excavator unloads dredged sand into a 10-cubic-yard rubber-tracked dump truck, which will place the sand on the beach.


A crew from Ecological Restoration and Management plants sea grasses on the Living Shoreline at the east end of the community beach. They planted more than 1500 plants in April 2021 and will plant more this spring.


One hundred feet of cobble beach and a small jetty were created where bulkhead reflected the wave energy, creating more damaging tidal action.


One of 45 concrete reefballs being installed in the Deep Creek estuary, which will be populated by oysters and other local shellfish to create a permanent submerged reef.


Inverted hardwood trees were driven into the earth with an excavator bucket, leaving the roots exposed to provide shade for marine life and perches for birds.


The final task of the project the week of February 14th was to install an interlocking sheet pile wall on the dock at the deep creek marina to deflect sedimentation that was filling in the slips.

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