Public access required when public funds coastal repairs
Hurricane Sandy brought severe destruction to New York and New Jersey – and enough devastation to Delaware that the First State is seeking disaster relief including $20 million to repair breaches in the dunes north of Primehook Beach.
Gov. Jack Markell’s request for funds to repair the breaches brought a glimmer of hope to Primehook residents who have seen their road and beach erode as saltwater pours through the breaches, taking over marshland that once protected their homes.
Over the years since the 2008 nor’easter opened the breaches, and some officials say it’s been even longer than that, flooding at Primehook has become so routine yet so severe that a recent unnamed, unheralded storm once again flooded the access road.
Back when the breaches first opened, officials were set to fill them using state equipment and personnel – until a lawsuit and an update of the comprehensive management plan for nearby Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge intervened. The final plan update was released only last week, nearly five years after the storm. As time passes, the breaches widen; the road and large portions of the marsh flood; and repair costs soar.
More than half the population of the United States now lives within 60 miles of a coastline, including the entire population of Delaware.
Like the community of Primehook, coastal residents everywhere have seen their homes threatened, yet nationally and statewide, short-term decisions about protecting coastal homes and people lurch from storm to storm, driven less by science than by political posturing and debate.
Billions – and probably trillions – of dollars are being spent nationwide to rebuild coastal towns and communities devastated by destructive storms that scientists say are now more frequent than they used to be.
To reduce costs in the short term, state and local governments must have authority to take stopgap measures that will limit storm damage and future repair costs. At the same time, in the long term, coastal communities that receive state and federal assistance must commit to providing parking and public access to the restored coastline so the public can enjoy the coastline public dollars have restored.