Although their corporate missions focus on engineering and constructing buildings and infrastructure, Froehling & Robertson and Stewart & Tate are leveraging their skills and donating their resources to safeguard Maryland’s most beloved waterways.

This summer, Froehling & Robertson landed in the Winner’s Circle for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation “Clean the Bay Your Way Contest.” In addition to removing 113 pounds of trash from a stream and planting trees, F&R used its laboratory resources and staff to create 57 oyster reef balls.

Volunteers at Froehling & Robertson designed and created 57 oyster reef balls.

Weighing 70 pounds apiece, the concrete reef balls look like miniature, marine versions of an igloo. The hollow, dome-shaped structures have irregularly shaped holes, nooks and crannies; a rough texture that lets baby oysters easily attach to the surface; and generally “all the comforts of an oyster’s desired home,” according to F&R. Once placed in a river or other waterway, each reef ball can support the growth and reproduction of 400 to 500 oysters.

“These reef balls can last over 100 years and create outcroppings of reefs all around the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. It’s a great habitat for oysters and a wonderful filtration system for the Bay,” said Sam Proctor, CEO of Froehling & Robertson and a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for the past 30 years.

The oyster reef ball project was also an ideal fit for F&R, especially in the midst of a pandemic, Proctor said.

Creating the reef balls required knowledge of how to fabricate, use and dismantle fiberglass molds as well as skill in creating a custom concrete mix that would create the desired surface and enough strength to withstand underwater pressure of 3500 psi. Those requirements both matched F&R’s skill set and created a training opportunity for some F&R employees.

“Usually our technicians create mix designs, make concrete test cylinders and then break them,” Proctor said. “For this project, we wanted to find out what was the perfect mix for the reef balls, then we trained guys on how to batch concrete, put molds together and tear molds apart to complete reef balls. It was a microcosm of what we do on jobsites.”

About 65,000 concrete units from York Building Products are helping create a reef off Ocean City.

The weekly reef ball production sessions which began this spring as employee vaccination rates were rising, also created an opportunity for some in-person interaction and camaraderie among employees.

“I thought it was fantastic because I got to meet a bunch of guys that we had hired during the pandemic that I didn’t know on a first-name basis,” Proctor said.

The casual interactions among the fully masked work teams, however, sometimes generated surprises.

“After doing three mixes, one of the guys asked me, what do you do at F&R?,” Proctor said. “I said, well I used to work in the lab back in the day. He said, what do you do now? I said, I’m the CEO. He was a little dumbfounded.”

In total, F&R completed 57 reef balls – one for every year since the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was formed. The effort took over 100 hours of work, 2,200 pounds of aggregate, 1,700 pounds of sand and 700 pounds of Type 1 Cement.

At Stewart & Tate, employees are working on another volunteer effort to improve marine habitats. York Building Products, a regional concrete block manufacturer and a subsidiary of Stewart & Tate, has committed to providing roughly 65,000 concrete block units to the nonprofit Ocean City Reef Foundation (OCRF). The foundation is creating a reef system by strategically placing various manmade objects on the ocean floor.

York Building Products began shipping concrete blocks to OCRF last fall and will continue through 2021 to meet its commitment. Some block units are inserted into large concrete tubes while others are scattered on the ocean floor. The varied placement creates multiple ways for the reef to grow. It also attracts a broader array of marine life.

“We are proud to support the creation of this much-needed habitat that will help ensure a plentiful fishery for years to come,” said Greg McElwee, Vice President of York Building Products Masonry Division.