Lafayette River Rebounds, Community Still Wary of Bay Budget Cuts

Jul 10, 2017

From left: Sean Corson, Acting Director, NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office; Rep. Bobby Scott, (3rd District); Ryan Jackson, aide to Rep. Scott; Molly Ward, Virginia Sec. of Natural Resources; Rick Coradi, Rotary Club of Norfolk all dump oysters with baby oysters attached onto a newly constructed reef.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

After nearly a decade of work, the once-polluted, urban Lafayette River in Norfolk is rebounding. The Elizabeth River Project and Chesapeake Bay Foundation will build just five more acres of oyster reefs to become Virginia's first river to meet Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration goals. Last week, federal, state and local legislators celebrated with community activists, but remain concerned that the president's budget has zeroed out all bay cleanup funding.

Virginia oysters are big money and excellent marine habitat. But to thrive they need clean water. For that, restoration efforts need federal funding. Sean Corson is acting chief of NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office.

“Here in the Lafayette, you're really a vanguard of a nationally and internationally significant conservation effort that people are paying attention to around the world. None of this would be possible without support from Congress.”

Community environmentalists get ready to dump oyster shells.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

And it will be up to Congress to put back the $73 million bay cleanup funds. Representative Bobby Scott is a Democrat from the 3rd District.

“We've shown today that there's strong bipartisan support for funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and I expect that funding to be restored.”

He was joined by Representative Scott Taylor, a Republican from the 2nd District.

“It's also important to say that there hasn't been a president's budget that was passed into law in the history of the nation. So, we will continue to fight very hard up there to make sure that funding is in place, to make sure your efforts are not in vain.”

The group was taken by boat to the latest reef under construction to dump bushels of oyster shell, some with baby oysters attached.

Peter Marx is with Choose Clean Water Coalition, which represents 230 groups throughout the bay watershed.

Reef construction crew on barge stop work for a photo.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

"We just planted 300,000 oysters in the Lafayette River, 300,000 oysters. And this is how we're going to restore the bay, one creek, one river at a time.”

It costs about $100,000 per acre to restore oysters and the Lafayette has 22 acres of new oyster sanctuary reefs. Marjorie Mayfield Jackson is executive director of the Elizabeth River Project.

“And that's how it works, when everybody - federal local state, private, public does their part. And we can't lose the federal momentum. That thread would unravel everything.”

For now, oysters in the river are not for harvest. Their job is to create habitat and help improve water quality.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association