Court: Prime Hook dune repair can proceed

Loss of sand to Irene could stall plan to fill in breaches
This is the main breach in the dune line that officials plan to fill in. BY RON MACARTHUR
September 21, 2011

A federal court judge has ruled work can continue to repair breached dunes in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The only remaining stumbling block is that Hurricane Irene may have washed away sand needed to do the work.

In a ruling handed down Sept. 16 in District Court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice said: “The plaintiffs have not demonstrated defendants acted arbitrarily and capriciously, or that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to take a ‘hard look’ at the environmental consequences of the project.”

The plaintiffs, Delaware Audubon Society and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, claimed the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which they said required a full environmental review of all significant federal actions including an environmental impact statement. In addition, the suit alleged the plan violated the Refuge Improvement Act, which requires projects on refuge lands be compatible with refuge purposes.

Refuge Manager Michael Stroeh said work could begin Monday, Sept. 26, depending on the findings of a recent sand survey by Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. He expects the results soon.

If it’s determined that Irene’s wrath washed away too much sand, state and refuge officials may be forced back to the drawing board. “At that point all of our options become much more expensive,” he said.

The project was approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to allow a DNREC crew to bulldoze sand to repair breaches in the dunes and fill inlets along a 4,000-foot stretch of Fowler Beach in the northern section of the refuge.