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Restored wetlands could help protect neglected South Baltimore communities

A project to restore wetlands in Brooklyn and Cherry Hill kicked off on Friday, April 19, 2024. Photo by Emily Hofstaedter/WYPR.
Emily Hofstaedter
A project to restore wetlands in Brooklyn and Cherry Hill kicked off on Friday, April 19, 2024.

A project to restore 10 acres of the Hanover Street Wetlands broke ground — or marsh — on Friday.

It’s part of the Middle Branch Resiliency Initiative Wetland Restoration Project which eventually seeks to restore 11 miles, and 50 acres, of wetlands across the Middle Branch area: including around Brooklyn, Cherry Hill, Westport and the Baltimore Peninsula. It’s the largest coastal restoration project in the state.

Credit: Reimagine Middle Branch
Reimagine Middle Branch

“We are bringing nature back to neighborhoods from whom it was taken away and protecting those same neighborhoods from storms, flooding, and erosion,” said Brad Rogers, the executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership.

Multiple speakers noted that waterfront investment in Baltimore City has historically happened around the Inner Harbor, much less in more southern neighborhoods.

The wetlands, just behind where Rogers stood, were filled with litter.

Pollution and flooding are major problems for the communities around Middle Branch. For instance, Rogers has spoken before about how flooding in the Medstar Harbor Hospital can block one entryway into the hospital and renders the helipad unusable.

The new wetlands would act like a sponge by protecting from erosion and coastal flooding, plus filtering the water.

Credit: Reimagine Middle Branch
Reimagine Middle Branch

There’s a lot that goes into restoring a wetland but a major part is adding back plantlife that can absorb harmful phosphorus and nitrogen that is currently leaching into the water, explained Kim Grove, the head of environmental research and protection with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works

Grove said that those nutrients are, “... going to be used up in these wetlands so we can have a better balance and hopefully less fish kills, which means we're going to have more crabs. What my ideal is gonna get us back to a five, maybe $10 crab cake, and then that's when I know we've really met our goals!”

In the summer, it isn’t uncommon to see scores of crabbers dropping pots near the Hanover Street bridge.

“We want them to have a safe place to fish, we want them to have places that are going to be productive, where they can go and consistently know that they're going to be able to get the protein that their families need,” said Josh Kurtz, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The Middle Branch Resiliency Initiative is using $67 million in combined federal, state, and local funds to restore 11 miles of shoreline wetlands.

The Hanover Street Wetlands Project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2025.

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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