U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Biologists, Eric Hannes, Christine Cardus, and Kathleen Buckler along with a team of Biologists from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) led by Linda Merchant-Masonbrink and Angela Adkins performed pre-construction wetland assessments on 12 acres of an existing wetland, as part of the Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) Authority Project.

This ecosystem restoration project was initiated under the GLFER program, with federal funding for the project provided by the USEPA's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Non-federal funding was provided by the OEPA Water Resources Restoration Program. The total project cost is approximately $1.3 million, with a construction contract expected to be approximately $600,000.

The Corps of Engineers and its partners, the OEPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the City of Port Clinton are working towards restoring 12 acres, and adding an additional 1.4 acres of coastal wetlands along Lake Erie, located just east of the mouth of the Portage River in the city of Port Clinton, Ohio.

Later this calendar year, construction will begin and continue for another five years and will include initial construction, invasive species treatment, native species re-vegetation, adaptive management (corrective actions), and monitoring. Some expected benefits of the ecosystem restoration project include, the enhancement of coastal wetland habitat, additional areas for migratory bird stopover habitat and recreating native coastal wetland plant communities.

Post construction, Buffalo District will be monitoring the coastal wetland restoration project for five years.

"Monitoring is necessary to determine if predicted outcomes of the project are achieved," said Eric Hannes, Lead Environmental Analysis Biologist. "Having a good understanding of what conditions exist in the wetland today will help insure successful monitoring."

During the two-day visit, Corps of Engineers and OEPA biologists collected data that can be used as a comparison for similar data collection to take place post-construction during future monitoring events.

The team applied three assessment methods, or tools, used to collect the data necessary to determine current conditions.

The first assessment is the Ohio Rapid Assessment Method (ORAM), which is a quantitative assessment method used and developed by the OEPA to measure the quality of a wetland by placing it in a category - 1, 2, or 3, with 3 being the highest quality. A "target" ORAM score has been established for the project and each monitoring year the ORAM score will be assessed again. If the ORAM score is not meeting the goal in any given monitoring year, then adaptive management for the restored wetland will be implemented.

The second assessment conducted during the field visit was the Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI), which will be used to determine if the project is meeting the established target for plant diversity within the restored wetland. The FQAI method requires recording the percent cover and type of vegetation at random sample locations along transect lines. These sample locations will be resampled each monitoring year. Then, the data collected will be input into an FQAI calculation as a way to estimate the overall quality of the plant population.

An additional survey was conducted to identify plant species of special concern that may be currently residing within the project area. As construction and invasive species removal activities could have a detrimental impact on such plants, additional measures are required for their protection. A survey of the entire project area lead to the identification of the state threatened Schweinitz's flatsedge. As a result of this find, special precautions will be taken during the construction of the project so this rare plant species will not be impacted.

Finally, Geographic Positioning System (GPS) was used to collect the total area within the wetland that is currently dominated by a non-native, invasive species known as common reed (Phragmites australis). Common reed is a perennial grass that out-competes desirable wetland plant species and kills opportunities for desirable wetland habitat. Having this pre-construction data will allow the Corps of Engineers to assess if the invasive species control efforts have been met during future monitoring years.

"Baseline ecological data is an integral part of our ecosystem restoration projects" said Chris Akios, Ecologist and Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District. "The initial monitoring data collected by the OEPA and USACE teams will provide us with a snapshot of the current ecological site conditions for comparison to future during- and post-construction conditions. This will set the stage for adaptive management, where we can respond to changes in site conditions and address obstacles during and after construction in order to meet project goals and objectives".

"We want to be able to demonstrate the success of this project and be able to show the public this project has benefitted them and created a healthy, vital coastal ecosystem along Lake Erie's shoreline," said Lt. Col. Jason Toth, USACE Buffalo District Commander.