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Construction starts on water control structures at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

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SUFFOLK, Va. - Construction work has started on a project to increase resiliency and reduce impacts from floods and wildfires at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The $3.13 million project will install, repair or replace 12 water control structures to better manage refuge water levels that will help with fire suppression, habitat management and flood risk to nearby communities.

Money for the project is coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

Construction is expected to last about nine months, during which time the water control structures inside the Portsmouth Ditch Trailhead entrance will be replaced or repaired.

Additional structures will be installed to expand groundwater storage that impacts approximately 30,000 acres in the refuge.

“This project will restore a natural water balance to the refuge and help protect local communities from the impacts of a changing climate,” said Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “By improving water management, the project can help reduce the risk of flooding from intense storms and dampen the impacts of wildfires and the massive release of carbon that comes with them.”

Refuge Manager Chris Lowie says the project will also improve conditions for peat soils, improve water quality for nearby communities and improve habitat for wildlife.

Two major fires ripped through the refuge in 2008 and 2011, costing more than $20 million to suppress. The fire in 2008 burned for more than 100 days.

“There are 1.5 million people living within an hour from the refuge that can be affected by our wildfires,” said Lowie. “People were smelling the smoke all the way up in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.”

The Portsmouth Ditch Trailhead will be closed to the public at the Big Entry Ditch Bridge for the duration of the project.

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