Path to Smith Island reopens
To get to most places on the Eastern Shore you can just jump into your car, but those on Smith Island don't have it that easy.
It's the only inhabited island left in Maryland and you can only get there by boat.
Smith Island is quaint, unique, even rustic and it also relies on the waters that surround it.
"We all do make our living off of the water whether you're a waterman or have a tour boat, everything has to do with the water," explains Betty Jo Tyler, a Smith Island resident.
But for several years many watermen couldn't get in and out of the docks at Rhodes Point on the Island.
"They had to go through Tylerton and then come around and then go out this way but now they can do it go around out the Bay," says Capt. Billy Gene Smith.
"They would have to go completely around the island to get here because there was no water. It was filling in all the time and then the erosion is taking away the land," says Tyler.
So a trip that should take only a couple of minutes would take about an hour. That is until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in. They built two jetties even a stone sill to make the waterway passable again so watermen could get out to the Bay more easily.
"These jetties are stone structures that also prevent the siltation and sediment from getting into the channel. The channel once it's dredged will help keep that channel at the correct depth," Commander Col. Ed Chamberlayne from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues, "It will also help with some coastal and wave action both going into the channel, making it safer for those transmitting that channel."
And as part of this $6.88 million project, vegetation will also be planted. The hope is to restore and protect the wetlands all over the island. Wetlands that are crucial to keeping the Bay healthy -and protecting the island from storms.
Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources Sec. Mark Belton explains, " We've got shoreline resilience as part of this project, which is something that is really important from the standpoint of the effects of climate change in the future with rising sea levels. This acts as a buffer, it helps protect the rest of the island from storm surge because everyone knows we've been seeing a lot more frequent storms and a lot more violent storms."
For the roughly 200 people on Smith Island who depend on this water for their livelihood, this project means everything to them
"It's just a blessing, you know, the little things mean so much, you know you take things for granted. The island may not be here forever so to speak, but it's going to be here for a long time and we want it to be for our children and grandchildren," exclaims Betty Jo Tyler.
Now the heavy lifting of this project might be complete, but it's not quite finished just yet.
By placing in the two jetties at Rhodes Point the hope is that Maryland DNR won't have to dredge as frequently but initial dredging still has to be done to deepen the channel.
The dredging will further align the Sheep Pen Gut channel, something that's crucial for boaters.
Col. Chamberlayne explains, "Starting in about October so in the fall, we will work on the navigation dredging and get that done and hopefully some additional dredging that will really make it the completed project for the watermen in this area."
Until that dredging is complete, officials are encouraging boaters to stay vigilant when navigating around the area.