N.C. Coastal Federation pushing oyster-restoration project|Two-year project calls for 54,000 tons of limestone marl to build sanctuaries

Published 5:46 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

Community Editor

BELHAVEN — The North Carolina Coastal Federation is hoping that improving the environment becomes synonymous with improving the economy as a result of a sprawling oyster habitat-restoration project in the Pamlico Sound.
The federation has partnered with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, North Carolina Sea Grant and local contractors to build and monitor about 47 acres of oyster reefs in the Pamlico Sound, according to a news release from the federation.
Funding for the massive project, which began in late July, is coming from a $5 million federal economic-stimulus grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. The project has created about 140 jobs for truckers, quarry workers, welders, barge operators, tugboat captains and heavy-machine operators, said Lexia Weaver, co-manager of the restoration project.
The two-year project calls for 54,000 tons of limestone marl to be moved from a quarry in New Bern to Pungo River Lime Co. in Belhaven, then barged offshore to build the sanctuaries.
Truckers with Harvey B. Yancey Trucking Co. of Maysville have been hauling the limestone marl to Belhaven on an almost-daily basis. Prior to receiving a subcontract for the project, the company’s truckers said they were lucky to find any work.
“Nope, no work,” said Lynwood Davis, a trucker with the company for seven years. “We sat at home and drew unemployment from March until July.”
Now, he is working 11 hours a day, five days a week.
“If it wasn’t for this, I’d be in a bind,” Davis said.
Davis and eight other truckers expect to be working on the project through the winter, at the very least.
“It’s helped us out big time money-wise and working,” he said.
The project has had a trickle-down effect on job opportunities, starting with the federation and DMF, which contracted the project to Steven’s Towing, a barge-towing company based in Edenton, which subcontracted to Yancey’s and Pungo River Lime Co., which need the services of mechanics and gas companies to keep the project running smoothly.
Jody Howery, an employee of Pungo River Lime Co. and who is involved in the project said, “This has helped a lot of people.”
The first group of sanctuary reefs were completed Thursday, according to Erin Fleckenstein, co-manager of the project and a coastal scientist.
Fleckenstein said 143 mounds of marl were located areas — designated by DMF — at Crab Hole, off of Stumpy Point in Dare County. Project workers are expected to start on the next group of reefs, to be built at Clam Shoal, off of Hatteras Island, shortly after Thanksgiving, she added.
The reefs have been built at least 7 feet below the surface, but well off the bottom of the Pamlico Sound to allow the mounds to be high enough in the water so currents and circulation will encourage oyster-spat settlement, according to the federation. Oyster harvesting will be prohibited at the sanctuaries, but hook-and-line fishing will be permitted, according to the federation.
DMF and the federation hope the mounds are as successful as similar mounds built off Ocracoke in 2005.
“We’ve had such good oyster recruitment that you can’t tell anymore where the individual pieces of marl are,” said Stopher Slade, DMF’s oyster-sanctuary biologist, in the NCCF release. “When biologists want to estimate how many oysters have settled on the reef, we’ve got to use a crow bar to dislodge a piece of marl.”
After oysters settle on the reefs being built, they are expected to multiply, clean the water (oysters filter the water) and provide homes for a variety of marine species. The abundance on fish, crabs, shrimp and other shellfish on the reefs should help provide a livelihood for commercial fishermen who make a living from the Pamlico Sound, the federation said.
“It’s great to be able to know that we’re doing something that forwards the mission of the Coastal Federation and also helps the local economy,” Fleckenstein said.