It takes some 'mussel' | Ravenswood marina closer to final approval with mussel study complete

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Almost 20 mussels were found by the Sandy Creek marina site and were moved upstream.

RAVENSWOOD  Malacologist David Foltz spent two days in the hot August sun in a wetsuit crawling around Sandy Creek using his bare hands to feel for mussels where the marina will eventually exist.

To move forward with the marina project, the state required a study of the aquatic animals. All mussels in West Virginia are protected, whether that's on the state or federal level. Foltz, a project manager for EDGE Engineering and Science, found 18 mussels and moved them 300 meters upstream. 

He found:

  • flat floaters
  • pink heelsplitters
  • white heelsplitters
  • giant floaters
  • paper pondshell
  • mapleleafs
These are some of the mussels Foltz found in Sandy Creek in August.

None of these mussels are federally protected, which allowed Foltz to move them while conducting the survey. If the mussels had been on the federal list, Foltz would have consulted with the state's natural resources and fish and wildlife departments to launch a formal relocation process for the living water filters. 

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Mussels constantly filter water to eat and breathe, according to Freshwater Mollusk Conservation group. When breathing in the water, the mussels consume microorganisms and bacteria like E. coli. 

Mussels are bottomfeeders in aquatic ecosystems that help supply the food chain, and they clean the water. One mussel study group calls them nature's "purifiers." 

West Virginia has four categories for its streams. Foltz said Sandy Creek falls under Category 1 as a small stream where no federally protected mussels were expected. Sandy Creek is an outlet of the Ohio River, which houses almost 130 species of mussels, according to the Ohio River Foundation. 

Foltz travels across America four months of the year to conduct mussel surveys like the one at Sandy Creek. Based on what he found, and the size of the Sandy Creek marina, Foltz said he isn't concerned about the marina negatively affecting the ecosystem's mussel population. 

More than mussels 

Chuck Somerville, the college of science dean at Marshall University, has conducted sampling on the Ohio River Basin in the past and is knowledgeable about the watershed. He said the Ravenswood portion of the river seemed to be in better shape than areas with larger populations like Pittsburg or Parkersburg. 

Any project on the waterway proposes a potential impact on the ecosystem, Somerville said, but it largely depends on how elaborate the development is and how the community treats it.

The Sandy Creek marina doesn't have a fuel station in its mock-up drawings. The quaint site is planned to have four boat slips and a few kayak launches. 

Somerville said some of the major environmental concerns would be if oil and gas, human waste and litter intruded the ecosystem. 

"How much those things impact the Sandy Creek habitat depends very much on how the marina is designed and operated," Somerville said in an email to Jackson Newspapers. "There will be some impact, but careful management of the operation can keep them within the resilience capacity of the system."

Bob Newell, consultant for the Sandy Creek project, said an environmental impact statement has not been made for the marina at this time, but said the project is going through all of the appropriate measures in the approval process. 

In addition to the mussel study, an archeological study was conducted by AllStar Ecology LLC in July. The findings reported that the site had some Native American tools and tool-making debris.

The archeological study was conducted to determine whether there was anything of historical significance on the site. AllStar said there weren't enough artifacts to halt the project.

"It is the professional opinion of AllStar Ecology LLC that this site is not eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places as it possesses diminished integrity and is not anticipated to reveal important information about the past," the report said. 

Upcoming steps for the marina:

  • Receive approval of the project based on the archeological study from the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office
  • Attach all studies, supporting documents and send to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for final approval

Newell said Ravenswood may begin paving the parking lot for the project once it gets the green light from the Historic Preservation Office. 

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.