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Joint Ventures and Adventures in Coastal Wetlands Restoration
By Bruce Carlisle, Hunt Durey, Georgeann Keer, and Tim Smith, CZM's Wetlands Restoration Program
The Massachusetts Wetlands Restoration Program (WRP) was founded in 1994 to support voluntary, proactive restoration of degraded or former wetlands. To fulfill its mission, WRP works with a broad network of partners to develop regional restoration plans, identify and evaluate specific restoration opportunities, assess project feasibility, prepare engineering design plans, obtain permits, complete construction, monitor restoration progress, and deliver outreach and educational resources. From 1994 - 2004, 40 projects have been completed, totaling more than 500 acres of wetlands under restoration. During this period, the program has leveraged over $12.5 million in non-state funds, including $9.5 million in federal funds and nearly $1.5 million in private sector financial and technical service donations.
Wetlands Restoration Program Moves to CZM
To enhance coordination and to realize budget savings, WRP was transferred to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) from its former host, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in July 2003. The realignment allows WRP to better synchronize efforts with CZM's regional, wetland assessment, and coastal water quality protection programs, as well as with the state's two National Estuary Programs—the Massachusetts Bays Program and the Buzzards Bay Project. The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) continues its strong support of WRP with capital funds to maintain two wetlands scientists/project managers, a restoration planner, a restoration specialist, technical services contracts, and coordination services with public/private partnerships. Integrated within CZM, the program will focus its efforts on wetland restoration in coastal watersheds, with an emphasis on the holistic restoration of coastal tidal or formerly tidal wetlands.
The Restoration Network
The not-so secret to the success of the Bay State's wetland restoration efforts lies in the strength, commitment, and networking of the program's various partners. This web of participants is comprised of WRP, project sponsors (frequently local municipalities or regional non-profits), Federal Coastal America partners, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP), and other state agencies, non-profits, and academics. By combining resources, sharing information, pooling management skills, and assembling a range of technical expertise, the strengths of all the partners are merged to meet the complex challenges and needs of local restoration projects.
The Coastal America partnership plays a critical role in the Massachusetts restoration network. The partnership was formalized in 1992 with a Memorandum of Understanding signed by nine agency representatives of the Federal government, committing these organizations to coordinate and integrate their efforts with state, local, and non-government groups. In Massachusetts, the most active Federal agencies are the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Restoration Center and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation. In addition to providing valuable restoration experience and technical services, the Coastal America partners generate tremendous financial support to local projects. To date, these Federal partners have contributed the majority of restoration funding in Massachusetts and have made numerous projects possible in cases where local and state resources only covered a portion of the costs.
The restoration network also reaches outside of government to involve major corporations, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens. Private corporations participate through the CWRP, which allows companies to demonstrate a strong environmental ethic by donating funds and services to ecological restoration. Created in 1999, the Massachusetts CWRP was the first of its kind in the country and served as the model for the national and many state corporate partnerships. Since its inception, 46 companies have donated more than $1.5 million in cash and in-kind services. CWRP assistance in Massachusetts has supplied a major share of the non-federal match frequently required for project grants. Before CWRP, a significant portion of federal funding available for wetlands restoration went unused because project sponsors were unable to fulfill local cost share requirements.
Lending a Hand
Another important piece of the network is the growing role played by volunteers. Using a model developed on the North Shore, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) has launched a new volunteer monitoring project for restoration sites on Cape Cod. Over the past five years, CZM, the Massachusetts Bays Program, and Salem Sound Coastwatch have had great success with a program that trains volunteers in field monitoring techniques, acquires important data on salt marsh condition, and facilitates environmental stewardship and restoration ethics. With support from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and the KeySpan Foundation, APCC and CZM staff are training Cape Cod volunteers in these methods, rationale, and field sampling approaches so that they can help to track the condition of local salt marshes before and after restoration.
Adventures in Restoration
Standing atop the Bridge Creek culvert under Route 6A in Barnstable and looking north at the Cape Cod Railroad embankment, WRP project manager Georgeann Keer reflects on the history and future of the Bridge Creek salt marsh system. "For more than 100 years, undersized culverts beneath this road and that railroad have severely restricted the tidal flow to the marshes upstream, degrading the natural habitat functions and values of this system. First the area of marsh surface available to fish and water birds has been greatly reduced; secondly salinity in the marsh root zone has decreased, creating conditions favorable for the invasive common reed (Phragmites australis). So, with the completion of the two phases of restoration here, this site will gradually return to its former healthy and productive condition."
The Bridge Creek estuary is part of the Sandy Neck/Barnstable Harbor Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which includes 8,850 acres covering Sandy Neck barrier beach, Scorton Harbor and Creek, Barnstable Harbor, and surrounding salt marshes. Working with the town of Barnstable as the project sponsor, WRP capitalized on a unique opportunity to restore tidal flow when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to suspend rail traffic for repairs on the Cape Cod Canal bridge. The project partners had only a 6-week window in March and April 2003 to complete Phase I of the project, which involved the removal of the restrictive 36-inch culvert and installation of a 10-foot x 10-foot culvert beneath the railroad.
For this first phase, more than $700,000 was raised from EOEA, NRCS, USFWS, NMFS (through their community-based partnerships with the Gulf of Maine Council, Ducks Unlimited, and the Conservation Law Foundation), CWRP (The Gillette Company, Duke Energy, Battelle, KeySpan Foundation, and Capaccio Environmental Engineering), and the town of Barnstable. CWRP partners Earth Tech, Weston & Sampson Engineers, and The Louis Berger Group provided valuable technical services.
Commenting on the project's success, EOEA Secretary Ellen Roy Herzfelder said, "Meeting the tight timeline would not have been possible without the support of more than 20 government, non-profit, and corporate contributors. Their dedication to the Bridge Creek salt marsh restoration demonstrates the incredible power of public-private partnerships to accomplish environmental goals."
Project partners are now focusing their attention on Phase II, which is expected to go to construction in the Spring of 2005, and will entail the replacement of the undersized culvert beneath Route 6A, as well as important land acquisition and conservation restrictions of marsh and surrounding upland with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Keer and the staff of WRP continue to provide critical technical support to the project, assist with grantwriting and fundraising, support the permit application process, and play a central role in project management. Recently, CZM, DCR, and TNC received $1 million from USFWS for the construction of Phase II and for land acquisition in the form of conservation easements in the Sandy Neck area. The Bridge Creek restoration partners have also been selected to receive a 2004 Coastal America Partnership Award for outstanding efforts to restore and protect the coastal environment.
Meanwhile new opportunities for restoration partnerships are emerging all over coastal Massachusetts. Currently, there are dozens of active wetland projects and many more candidates have been identified through WRP mapping and planning projects. As the restoration network moves forward on these opportunities, stayed tuned to Coastlines for future articles.
For More Information
Check out the Wetlands Restoration Program website.
An Example of WRP in Action: Before, During and After—the Cowyards in Dartmouth
Before: Aerial View of the Cowyards in Dartmouth and original 192-foot long, 19- by 30-inch eliptical culvert.