Bridge soil returns as farmland

News September 28, 2000
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Potomac River soil dredged for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge will restore a strip-mined hillside adjacent to the historic Shirley Plantation on the James River, restoring the land to its natural contours and making it suitable for agriculture.
Approximately three-quarters of the Potomac River at the Wilson Bridge is only a few feet deep. Thus, dredging is required to create a channel for construction vessels to safely access the locations where the future bridge’s foundations will be built.
Locating a placement site for the estimated 550,000 cu yd of river sediment has been a formidable challenge. More than 20 potential sites were evaluated, including other on-land sites, the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River and the Atlantic Ocean. The Weanack site was selected because it features minimal environmental impact, an existing port facility and a nearby placement facility.
"This is a win on all fronts," said Gene McCormick, executive project manager for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. "It is good for our heritage because it returns an historic property to its original appearance. It is good for the environment because it reclaims a strip-mined area and provides an excellent river sediment deposit site. And it is good for agriculture because it will return a now-barren site to agricultural use."
The agreement was signed in August by property owner Charles Carter and the Maryland State Highway Administration, which will administer the dredging work, with concurrence by the Federal Highway Administration. The location, called Port Tobacco at Weanack, is considered a "beneficial use" site, has received concurrence from the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office and is obtaining all appropriate federal and state environmental permits and approvals.
Extensive testing has shown the river-bottom soil is free of toxins, is not hazardous and meets federal standards to protect human health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other environmental protection agencies were consulted and approved of the testing procedures.
A generation ago, the Weanack site was mined for sand and gravel. As a result, the area is now virtually barren. Repeated efforts to farm the land have failed due to the existing soil’s low nutrient and organic content. The reclamation effort will fill the 50-acre site with nutrient-rich soil that was washed into the Potomac River during storms.

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