Laying it on line about IR Inlet

January 18, 2013

The Dec. 28 article in the Cape Gazette titled “Timeline: Indian River Inlet bridge” should be required reading for all Delaware and federal officials before any more money is spent on more “Band-Aid “ type repairs to beaches, dunes, and infrastructure. In addition, many of today’s beach erosion problems, Indian and Rehoboth bays problems, the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, and the current situation at Prime Hook all trace their beginning to around 1880 thru around 1934.


Here are a couple of examples;


  1. The Lewes-Rehoboth Canal required a 300-foot right-of-way. When the US Army Corps of Engineers wanted to abandon finishing the canal as it was no longer needed, the Lewes residents protested and the last section was completed. The route was changed from cutting across dry land to dredging old streams. Apparently to save money they put the entire canal in a 100-foot right-of-way. Two thirds of the canal was built on private land. Canals were built for a mule to tow a barge at roughly 5 MPH. The U.S. Coast Guard has issued recommendations of “no wake” when operating within 100 or 200 feet of the shoreline. These were recommendations that DNREC chose not to adopt in favor of laxer regulations- regulations that their own policing authority admits, in writing, “Don’t work”.


  2. In a previous Gazette article I described the original Indian River Inlet as being about a mile north of the present location and only running at a full high tide. The tide was further buffered by a chain of islands restricting severe tidal changes. Old family photographs and maps document the original inlet with a super wide beach. It seems that the 1926 aerial photographs of this area have been missing from the DNREC/P&R’s files for years.


  3. Plagiarizing from an old article in 1928, former Gov. John G. Townsend was running for U.S. Senate against Thomas Bayard and it was obvious that he wasn’t going to win unless he could get his name in the papers. The DuPonts gave him dynamite with which he blasted out a new Indian River Inlet and succeeded in getting elected just as Mother Nature started closing his new inlet. Within a few months it was completely closed.


  4. Now in Congress he was able to “help secure federal funds.” Sound familiar? In 1934 work on a new channel was started, complete with a long seaward jetty, etc.


  5. At this point Ron MacArthur’s Cape Gazette article picks up the time line. The first inlet was14  feet wide and didn’t flow enough water to affect the water level in the bays. Per


  6. Army Corps of Engineers documents, about 250 feet of the new jetty quickly washed away followed by approximately five more feet per year.


  7. The original engineering, or lack thereof, probably never noticed that they were blocking/diverting the normal natural migration of sand that was needed to replenish the beaches at Bethany and Rehoboth as documented in later corps documents. Although the old corps documents say that “widening the IR Inlet will only increase the tidal flow and cause more erosion,” who reads old documents? At a meeting with corps at their Philadelphia headquarters the person in charge of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal demanded to know where I was getting my obviously incorrect information. After my answer, “From your historical information, in your library, which I have cleaned up, scanned, enlarged, and made both paper and electronic copies for both myself and your people,” you could have heard a pin drop. What made it worse was that his people vouched for my comments.


  8. It has been suggested that a dam and locks be erected at the inlet, which would simulate the way Mother Nature originally designed it. This idea was either rejected or overlooked. It could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 75 years. The Hiram Chittenden Canal in Seattle, constructed by the corps is exactly what Delaware needs in my opinion. Forget adding the fish ladder. The salmon seem to prefer riding up and down in the locks with the boats.


  9. The Donovans were early settlers arriving around 1680 and over the years have kept what are now historical documents of early history such as original drawings of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal which was to start/terminate in Delaware Bay where the Dairy Queen is presently located. It was apparently another money saving idea to follow the old stream to its present connection with the relocated river into Delaware Bay.


  10. Let’s look at what’s gone wrong over the years. The Indian and Rehoboth Bays are now tidal. The incoming flow of the present Indian River Inlet, when the ocean goes from low to high tide, has a flow of around 13 million cubic feet per older corps documents. This is why it has the reputation as “probably the worst inlet on the whole east coast,” per DelDOT. As the tide transitions from high to low, the 13 million cubic feet needs to return to the sea. Per corps calculations two-thirds returns via the inlet while one third now flows down the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and empties into Delaware Bay in close proximity to the Prime Hook area. The exodus of this huge volume of water from the IR Inlet further deflects the normal sand migration out to sea. This is further depleting Delaware beaches of much-needed sand. The federal government now classifies this section of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal as an inlet due to the flow. Note: 1 cubic foot equals 7.481 gallons, so we are talking about a lot of water on a normal tidal transition. Add a storm surge and you have a major problem.


  11. Trying to communicate with federal, state, and local officials has been hopeless. With the exception of DelDOT the other officials have been firmly entrenched for years not wanting to get involved. Instead we just keep pumping sand on the problem, which I call adding more Band-Aids, instead of addressing the engineering issues. This is not the only issue, but it is most likely the worst one. It’s also what’s called self-inflicted damage as all of the above officials have known of the problems for years, but chose to ignore them. The World War II sighting towers, in the surf at Rehoboth, were once inland. They document the fact that what Delaware’s been doing for the past 70 years isn’t working. It’s time for a change as President Obama once used as a campaign slogan.


    Richard W. Donovan

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