VIMS researchers share Coastal America Spirit Award

Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers Walter Priest and William Reay were part of a group that recently received a prestigious national award for their efforts to help restore the Elizabeth River, a highly industrialized tributary of the James River and Chesapeake Bay that includes three "Superfund" sites.

VIMS, the Navy and its contractors, EPA, the Elizabeth River Project, Atlantic Wood Industries, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality received the 2004 Coastal America Spirit Award to recognize their restoration work at the Atlantic Wood and Norfolk Naval Shipyard sites and the New Gosport landfill.

The Coastal America Spirit Award is presented to unique, multi-agency partnerships that demonstrate teamwork in restoring and protecting U.S. coastal resources. Coastal America is a partnership among federal, state, and local governments and private alliances to address environmental problems affecting our nation's coast, waterways, and wetlands.

Dr. Carl Hershner, head of VIMS’ Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM), notes that "Priest and Reay have long and remarkable track records of providing extensive and usually unheralded technical assistance to many groups in the region." Priest is affiliated with CCRM's Wetlands Unit. Dr. Reay heads the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve system (CBNERR) at VIMS.

The Atlantic Wood site, which was used from 1926 to 1992 to treat wood with creosote, sits on the industrialized waterfront of Portsmouth beside the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Because the restoration project involved "cross-boundary contamination" between the two facilities, cleanup required unique legal agreements and partnerships among the award recipients.

The nearby New Gosport site contained more than 55,000 tons of abrasive blast material, contaminated soils, and lead-tainted paint chips from Navy ship-blasting operations. Original plans to excavate and dispose of the material as hazardous waste far exceeded available funding. The restoration team instead decided to stabilize the lead-contaminated material in place. This innovative approach reduced project costs by $1.4 million and allowed the remaining, non-hazardous materials to be re-used as a cap for a regional landfill.

For both projects, Priest and Reay provided technical advice on the design and construction of wetland and riparian buffers that help stabilize the cleanup sites and filter pollutants before they enter the River and Bay.