CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — Money Point along the shoreline of the southern branch of the Elizabeth River was once so polluted, few thought it could ever be brought back to life.
Years of creosote dumping around the point that juts into the river just north of Military Highway left the bottom a gooey mess of toxins that was home to few fish. And those suffered from cancerous lesions.
Even so, the Elizabeth River Project decided to tackle the seemingly impossible cleanup in 2006. Now, it has received one of four "Best Restored Shore" awards from the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
The honor brings an enormous amount of credibility to the group's work, said Joe Rieger, deputy director of restoration for the organization.
"When the public can see that their funds are being used for a project that is recognized nationally, they'll be more willing to fund us," he said. "This shows that we're creating projects locally that are of national importance."
The nearly 10 acres of uplands marsh and urban forest at Money Point, and the waters surrounding it, today are home to 26 species of fish, 110 species of birds, a thriving oyster reef and — from time to time — a family of otters. Eagles and ospreys soar overhead and soft-shell clams can be dug from the bottom where several species of water worms make their home.
"Otters aren't found in areas that are polluted. The clams need to burrow into the bottom and they can't when it's covered in creosote," Rieger said.
Creosote is used as a wood preservative. In 1963 a fire at one of four production facilities at Money Point caused a spill of 130,000 gallons of the thick, oily substance.
The Living River Restoration Trust secured approximately $5 million that had been set aside from the former APM Terminals to offset any impacts when the company built a new terminal and the river project started working with scientists at the University of Virginia to develop a plan.
The river project formed a partnership with dozens of community organizations and businesses along the river. Kinder Morgan Elizabeth River Terminals donated the land.
Then hundreds of volunteers started a restoration effort that would become the nation's first large-scale sediment remediation project.
"Money Point is a model restoration for the world on how to clean up a contaminated site while also restoring a degraded shoreline," Rieger said. "This was a community award because of all the partnerships that were involved."
More than 36 million pounds of contaminated sediment was removed from the area and thousands of tons of sand were brought in to cap the cleaned river bottom. Hundreds of trees were planted and natural marsh grasses were restored. Thousands of pounds of seasoned oyster shells were placed along rip rap shoreline that was then covered with mature oysters and spat (baby oysters).
A 12-foot berm built toward the back of the project land has greatly reduced flooding in a nearby neighborhood.
The project was completed a few years ago, but officials with the river project wanted to make sure the effort turned out the way they hoped before submitting an entry form for the award.
"We had good monitoring data," Rieger said. "And all the wildlife that is there now is a sure sign that this worked.
"This is a huge success story."