Prime Hook Road reopens; dune project delayed

Dune project in limbo as hurricane washes sand away
Washed-out sections of Prime Hook Road have been repaired with crushed concrete. BY RON MACARTHUR
September 7, 2011

Story Location:
Milton  Delaware
United States

Hurricane Irene not only damaged Prime Hook Road making it impassable, it also has delayed a dune-repair project scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 12. For now, the road has been repaired, but the future of the dune project is dubious.

The storm moved a great deal of sand and widened the southern breach, one of several in the northern section of the refuge in the area of Fowler Beach Road, according to a project update on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge website.

“The degree of change to the beach will require the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to complete a new sand survey before the project can proceed,” the website reports.

DNREC engineers will reassess the project this week amid concern so much sand washed away during the storm there is no longer enough sand to complete the dune-repair work. If the work can proceed, the next possible window for the project is the week of Sept. 26 when the tides will allow adequate access to the site.

“This is ludicrous and unforgivable, as another storm might very well continue the flooding that would once again damage the repaired Prime Hook Road,” said Primehook Beach resident John Chirtea.  “Let's now focus on getting that problem solved so that we do not lose the investment being made on Prime Hook Road.”

Over the past three years, storms have opened a series of breaches along the duneline in the northern section of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in the vicinity of Fowler Beach Road. The inlets allow free flow of saltwater from the Delaware Bay into a saltwater impoundment and former freshwater impoundments, destroying most of the freshwater marsh and compromising Prime Hook Road and the village of Primehook Beach.

A plan has been put in place to use a DNREC crew to use heavy equipment to rebuild the dunes using sand from the marsh side of the dunes, but most of that sand was washed away during the most recent storm.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Delaware Audubon Society oppose restoring the dunes and have filed legal actions to stop the work. The groups allege that dune repair violates the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires full environmental review of all significant federal actions, and the Refuge Improvement Act, which requires that projects on refuge lands be compatible with refuge purposes.

Possible court action further complicates the dune-repair project.

Road is open in less than one week

State transportation officials opened Prime Hook Road less than one week following Hurricane Irene. The road – the only public access to Primehook Beach – was impassable due to water damage inflicted by the Aug. 27 storm. Entire sections of the roadway were washed away.

Late last week, Delaware Department of Transportation maintenance crews worked quickly to install crushed concrete on the storm-damaged sections in order to restore the road to a safe and passable condition. The road was officially opened at 4 p.m. Sept. 2, after being closed more than six days.

Beginning the week of Sept. 5, a contractor will apply hotmix asphalt to the damaged areas to improve the road’s condition, said DelDOT spokeswoman Tina Shockley. The work should be completed with a week, depending on the weather.

DelDOT officials had worked out a deal for Primehook Beach residents to use a private road in the Back Bay Cove community in Broadkill Beach as access their homes on Primehook Beach. The Back Bay Cove community was to be paid $500 a day for a 30-day temporary easement for use of the road.

“I applaud Sam Burke [Back Bay Cove developer] and DelDOT for working closely and quickly to restoring Primehook Beach's access.  Without this negotiation, I hate to think how long we would have been without a road into our community,” Chirtea said.

The additional roadwork will require intermittent lane closures during daytime hours. The road will be fully opened to two lanes at night. Message boards have been posted in the area to alert motorists of road-access conditions.  Motorists should use caution while driving in the area, Shockley said.