VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Sept. 3, 2019 – The Elizabeth River Project has been awarded its first Virginia Natural Gas-supported conservation grant that will help the organization continue restoring the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, rebuild oyster reefs, and engage in community stewardship and education.
Working with community partners such as Norfolk State University’s biology department, the City of Norfolk, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Kinder Morgan, the project will use the latest technology to create new oyster habitat which will mimic natural reefs, improve water quality, and bolster the biodiversity characteristic of southeastern Virginia.
The grant, awarded through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program, supports projects that develop community stewardship of natural resources and address water quality issues in priority watersheds across the country.
“Virginia Natural Gas is proud to continue our long-standing promise to natural resource conservation and stewardship through the Five Star and Urban Waters Program,” said Jim Kibler, president of Virginia Natural Gas. “We have a vested interest in preserving and protecting our natural coastal habitats. Through this grant, we are giving back to the customers and communities we are privileged to serve.”
The Five Star grants are awarded through a partnership between VNG’s parent, Southern Company, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) as well as other public and private funders.
The $50,000 grant to the Elizabeth River Project will have a $120,00 on-the-ground impact with the grantee’s match.
“We are honored to receive the Five Star Urban Waters grant,” said Grace Saunders, assistant director of Restoration at the Elizabeth River Project. “This grant will allow us to continue our work on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River through restoration and community partnerships.”
The Elizabeth River is a six-mile-long tidal estuary that forms an arm of the Hampton Roads harbor at the southeastern end of the Chesapeake Bay. The river separates the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth and has shaped and economically defined the city of Norfolk. The shipping industry and military have depended on the river for more than 100 years.
“Because of the heavy industrial use of the river, wildlife and biodiversity were almost nonexistent,” said Saunders. “This organization was formed to try and bring the river’s health back to the highest environmental quality through collaboration with other local businesses and community organizations.”
The Elizabeth River Project will use the grant to help further aid recovery of the river by enhancing 5 acres of native oyster habitat, with the proposed oyster reef providing invaluable habitat to native species.
Those species include mummichogs and oyster toads, and native invertebrates, such as blue crabs and ribbed mussels.
According to Saunders, volunteers will add 86 cubic yards of materials ranging from “oyster castles” to a new design of “oyster discs” that mimic natural reefs.
“Oysters are a critical component to restore the health of the river,” added Saunders. “These artificial reefs give oysters something to attach to and recruit other oysters. Oyster reefs are important because a single oyster can purify 50 gallons of water per day.”
Students from Norfolk State University’s biology department will aid with the construction of the oyster reefs and will monitor water quality following installation. Volunteers and residents from the Ingleside neighborhood will spearhead the construction of the reef since the area is threatened by flooding as a result of tidal inundation, storm events and sea-level rise.
“Support from the Five Star Grant and Virginia Natural Gas will allow us to continue the restoration and revitalization of the Elizabeth River,” said Saunders. “This river is such a centerpiece of life here in Hampton Roads. Through restoration, we can preserve and protect the river for generations to come.”
The Virginia Natural Gas-supported conservation grant was made possible through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Five Star and Urban Waters 2019 program. This year the program awarded 46 grants totaling $1.7 million to improve water quality and aquatic habitat benefiting species and communities in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Grantees have pledged an additional $4.4 million, creating a total conservation impact of more than $6.1 million.
About Virginia Natural Gas
Virginia Natural Gas is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Virginia Natural Gas provides natural gas service to nearly 300,000 customers in southeast Virginia. Virginia Natural Gas has been recognized as one of the safest, most reliable and customer-focused natural gas service providers and is consistently ranked in the top quartile for customer satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates. In 2018, Virginia Natural Gas was named Local Distribution Company of the Year by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Oil and Gas Association for the third consecutive year. For more information, visit virginianaturalgas.com and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Southern Company Gas
Southern Company Gas is a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE:SO), America’s premier energy company. Southern Company Gas serves approximately 4.2 million natural gas utility customers through its regulated distribution companies in four states and approximately 700,000 retail customers through its companies that market natural gas. Other nonutility businesses include investments in interstate pipelines, asset management for natural gas wholesale customers and ownership and operation of natural gas storage facilities. For more information, visit southerncompanygas.com.
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