No time to wait for Prime Hook action

January 2, 2013

On Dec. 28, 2012, at long last, came the announcement from the Fish and Wildlife Service of the availability of the final draft of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement which together are to serve as the guides for managing the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge for the next 15 years.

The community at Primehook Beach has been waiting for this since 2005, suffering increasingly devastating and frequent floods as the barrier dunes to our north ebbed away in each storm and tidal surge.

The FWS continues to support alternative plan B as their preferred alternative for Prime Hook NWR. In it, FWS  proposes a study by an outside agency that will ultimately inform the rebuilding of the peat layer that has been destroyed by the sudden inflow of salt water that went unrepaired after storms in 2008 and then widened since then, the repair of the dune line, and the establishment of a salt water marsh.

The study is predicted to be complete sometime in 2013, and hopefully that’s a reasonable prediction, but the negotiations with the firm are not yet complete.

The funding for the work is not clear, but seems to depend on $20 million in the Sandy Supplemental Act.  This federal act has been passed by the Senate and is awaiting further processing for completion.

However, during the comment period from May 31 to Aug. 27, they received 107 written responses, as well as a petition signed by 522 individuals, 1,024 copies of the same form letter, and they held hearings and open houses at which public opinions were aired with passion. Many of those comments addressed the need to act immediately to fill the breaches in the barrier dune structure north of the Primehook Beach community at Fowler Beach.

For that reason the service has amended its alternative plan B to “clarify that dune restoration is a likely first step in our proposal to restore marsh habitat on the refuge.” This is indeed a reason to look forward with great hope that the flooding will be contained, if not entirely stopped. But, words such as “a likely first step” don’t mean much until the sand arrives, especially when the work is to be preceded by studies and the funding is precarious. The Primehook community is grateful that the dune line repair has been prioritized, but we cannot celebrate yet.

FWS has stated “Alternative B, with these changes, is still our preferred alternative for Prime Hook NWR for several reasons. First, alternative B comprises a mix of actions that, in our professional judgment, work best towards achieving the refuge's purposes, vision, and goals, NWRS policies, and the goals of other state and regional conservation plans. Second, we also believe that alternative B most effectively addresses key issues raised during the planning process.”

We need that “mix of actions,” or any others of several that have been proposed, to begin immediately before more homes are damaged, before the road washes away yet again, before our once-beautiful marsh cannot not be saved.

For more information on the CCP/EIS release, see

Cindy Miller
chair, Prime Hook Beach Organization

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