Meeting to review challenges at Prime Hook

Briefing for residents, homeowners set Jan. 20 in Milford
Inlets into Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge have been opened by a series of storms over the past four years. The saltwater intrusion from the Delaware Bay has damaged freshwater marshes and created flooding problems. SOURCE SUBMITTED
January 13, 2012

The continuing threat to more than 200 Primehook Beach homeowners from the encroaching waters of the Delaware Bay will be the subject of an upcoming public meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, at the Carlisle Fire Hall in Milford.

Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, and Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, are sponsoring the event.

At a recent meeting with state, local and federal officials concerned about flooding in the coastal community, Michael Stroeh, manager of the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, provided a briefing on the challenges to the current marsh system and how the ecology and hydrology of the area contribute to breaches at Fowlers Beach and flooding of Prime Hook Road. Several breaches have opened inlets in the Fowlers Beach area just north of Primehook Beach. Because the protective freshwater marshes have been destroyed by the bay's saltwater, extreme high tides and storms lead to flooding.

Stroeh explained the refuge’s current comprehensive planning process, expected to be completed in late 2012, will not only provide a roadmap for restoring the marsh to a more balanced and sustainable state, but will also provide the needed federal review of any substantial work to occur in the refuge, including any potential action on the breaches.

Simpson and Kenton asked Stroeh to present the same information for residents at the meeting.

“It is the federal Fish & Wildlife Service’s position that some of the alterations and actions over the years in managing the marsh had the unintended consequence of creating the situation that we face today,” Simpson said. “That is why the refuge has taken the position that it needs to contemplate some fairly substantial changes to the refuge before any work can occur.”

Kenton said the meeting will provide residents and people living in the area of the refuge with some needed information. “The residents and all of us worried about the flooding are concerned about the time frame we are talking about for dealing with the situation at Prime Hook. But this information session will at least let residents understand some of the complex factors that are helping to cause the flooding and why the refuge wants time to move forward,” he said.

Representatives of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Department of Transportation, Sussex County government, Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. John Carney are expected to attend.

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