MD 254 Over Neale Sound – Section 7 Consultation for Federally Listed Sturgeon & Essential Fish Habitat

Coastal Resources, Inc. (CRI) was contracted to assist MDOT-SHA with completing Section 7 consultation under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and compliance with the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) during the replacement of the MD 254 bridge over Neale Sound in southern Charles County, MD.  The bridge replacement project involved the installation of new bridge piers within Neale Sound, a waterbody separated from the Potomac River by Cobb Island. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) identified two federally endangered fish species, Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) and short-nosed sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), as potentially occurring within the project area.  To ensure that the project would not have an adverse effect on these protected fish species, CRI completed a Biological Assessment (BA) of the potential effects of the project on the sturgeon.  As part of the BA, CRI first identified the Action Area within which potential effects would likely occur.  This Action Area included the project limits of disturbance and a 500-foot-wide buffer surrounding those limits of disturbance to capture any potential direct or indirect effects to the sturgeon.  Existing data were then gathered from published sources on water chemistry, aquatic fauna, water depths, and the potential presence of either sturgeon species within the Action Area.  An assessment was then made as to the potential for various stressors to affect sturgeon if present within the Action Area. These stressors included habitat modification, suspended sediment, noise from pile driving, and increased vessel traffic.  The BA also identified potential effects to designated Critical Habitat of the Atlantic sturgeon.  Based on this assessment, it was concluded that the potential affects of the proposed action would be insignificant and discountable and would be mitigated using approved construction techniques. This resulted in the determination that the project would not likely adversely affect Atlantic or short-nosed sturgeon or Critical Habitat of Atlantic sturgeon.  These BA results were submitted to the NOAA NMFS in the form of an Input Letter that received agency concurrence.

The NOAA NMFS also oversees protection of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) under the MSA.  To determine whether the project would affect EFH, CRI completed the EFH worksheet that identifies the types of EFH within the project area, documents available habitats, and assesses potential effects of the project on EFH.  EFH habitat was present for Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) and summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus).  Additionally, the MSA protects NOAA-Trust Resources, which can include anadromous fish species, shellfish, and crustaceans.  CRI assessed potential effects to all life stages of EFH and NOAA-Trust species resulting from disturbance of habitat, pile driving, suspended sediments, changes in water chemistry, noise, and other factors.  Following the evaluation, the project was determined to have a minimal adverse effect on EFH species.  NOAA NMFS reviewed the worksheet and concurred with the project findings.


Charles County, MD


MDOT – State Highway Administration

Key Services:

Endangered Species & Essential Fish Habitat Consultations