After being in consideration for over twenty years, the Tangier Island jetty will finally be built to protect the sinking island from recurring flooding and sea level rise. Home to approximately 450 people, Tangier Island is built on a local industry of catching fish, crabs, and oysters – a lifestyle for the islanders that dates back to the 1700s.
Since 1850, the island off Virginia’s eastern shore has lost up to two-thirds of its landmass from erosion on part of crashing waves, strong storms, and rises in sea level, according to a 2015 study. Though, for years before the release of the study, scientists and engineers have considered a range of options to ensure the survival of the low-lying coastal area, from building seawalls around Tangier, to using dredge spoils to build it up, to installing artificial oyster reefs to protect the shoreline.
In 1994, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to study the implementation of a jetty, with the initial phase of this project launching in 1995 with a reconnaissance report, and a full feasibility study that was initiated in 2009. The USACE considered several measures to protect the navigation channel from wave action. The study included a revetment (a barricade of earth or or other material set up to provide protection), a jetty, offshore breakwater installments, geotextile tubes to de-water sediments, and relocating harbor facilities.
Ultimately, the only measure that was deemed to be effective and feasible by some of the nation’s top engineers was the construction of a jetty.
Over the past few years, state lawmakers, the Eastern Shore’s representation in Congress, and the federal government have been working on funding a plan for the USACE and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to launch the design and construction of the Tangier Island jetty in Accomack County. The federal and state-funded project will protect the western part of the navigation channel and harbor for Tangier.
At a recent briefing in Chincoteague, area Congressman Scott Taylor (VA-2) said, “I am happy to say today that the end of the federal approval process has happened. I’m proud to say they are going to start that process finally and construction will begin in 2018 and conclude in 2019.”
In a report from Delmarva Now, the purpose of the project is “to help protect the harbor and west channel from wave action and, during the winter, from sheets of ice that pile up and damage the islander’s work boats, docks, and crab houses,” said officials from the USACE.
VMRC Commissioner Steven Bowman said, “The jetty project will help protect the town’s navigation channel and harbor from wave action and adverse weather conditions that can damage work boats, docks and crab houses.” The jetty will not only protect the residents of Tangier Island, but it will also mitigate potential threats to the Chesapeake Bay seafood economy.
The projected costs for design and construction of the Tangier Island jetty will total around $2.6 million, with 20 percent of funding coming from the Commonwealth. The USACE will construct a “straight stone jetty” at the southwestern tip of Uppards Island, extending south into the water approximately 494 feet from its point of origin into the navigation channel.
Many local elected officials weighed in on the development of the long-awaited jetty construction.
“As everyone should know, this jetty project is very important and vital to all the residents of Tangier. This has been in the work for six long years. We would like to thank everyone from the local county, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the federal government as they have all been instrumental in making this finally a reality,” said Tangier Island Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge. He explained that “this is the way that good government should work… a great example of true partnership between state and federal governments.”
Eskridge said the jetty will give “our island and residents young and old renewed hope that we can save our homes and our way of life.”
Delegate Robert Bloxom (R-Accomack) said, “We have worked long and hard and jumped through a multitude of hurdles to get this project, which is much needed for the protection of Tangier Island. This jetty is essential for the survival of Tangier Island and I share the excitement of the Tangier Island residents for its completion.”