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Virginia General Assembly funds VIMS seawater, shoreline projects

Virginia's General Assembly Wednesday adopted a higher education bond package that includes $5.5 million for two major capital projects at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.

$4.3 million will fund construction of a new seawater research facility at the Institute's Eastern Shore Laboratory (ESL) in Wachapreague. $1.2 million will go toward shoreline maintenance and improvements on the main VIMS campus in Gloucester Point.

VIMS Dean and Director John Wells says "we deeply appreciate the decision by the Governor and the General Assembly to fund our top two capital projects for the 2008-2010 biennium. These funds will help ensure that we continue to serve the Commonwealth as one of our nation's leaders in marine research, education, and advisory service."

The Seawater Research facility at VIMS' Eastern Shore Lab will provide investigators with running seawater for research in marine ecology and aquaculture in the high-salinity environment of the coastal ocean. Research is currently conducted in buildings from the late 1800s. The facility will complement the recently constructed seawater laboratory at Gloucester Point, which facilitates study of organisms and processes of Chesapeake Bay using the brackish waters of the York River.

"This investment will serve the long-term interests of the Commonwealth," notes Wells. Previous research at the lab is widely credited for jumpstarting hard clam aquaculture on the East Coast, an industry now valued at nearly $100 million per year.

ESL Director Dr. Mark Luckenbach adds that the new facility will benefit not only scientists and students from VIMS, but also the "many scientists from other academic and research institutes in Virginia, the Eastern Seaboard, and overseas that use our facilities every year."

The new facility will include environmentally controlled laboratory space, quarantine capabilities, hatchery and nursery operations for genetically improved shellfish strains, and industry training facilities.

The other funded project will help control erosion along the shoreline of the Gloucester Point campus. It includes construction of new stone breakwaters, the extension of several pipe outfalls further into the York River, replenishment of shoreline sand, creation of small dunes, and planting of shorline vegetation. The project will complement a previously funded plan to replace VIMS' existing wooden piers with a modern, storm-resistant concrete structure.