Hurricane Sandy brought destruction, but it could also be the best news in years for the future of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The breaches at Fowler Beach will be repaired and the refuge is set to become the centerpiece of one of the largest marsh restoration projects on the Atlantic coast thanks to federal funds to repair hurricane-related damage.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced Feb. 1 that U.S. Congress has allocated $68.2 million to make repairs to 25 refuges on the East Coast damaged by the storm.
“We will invest supplemental funding to begin one of the largest coastal marsh restoration projects on the Atlantic seaboard,” said spokeswoman Terri Edwards about work proposed at Prime Hook refuge.
The service is in the process of developing implementation plans and timelines for projects in more a dozen states. The estimated cost to make repairs at Prime Hook refuge has been placed at $20 million.
Still to be determined, through an ongoing engineering survey, is how much sediment and sand will be needed to repair the dunes, Edwards said. The results of the survey are expected to be completed in March. “The real cost will unfold during the coming weeks and months,” Edwards said.
She said engineers would also submit restoration options, as well as options where the sediment and sand would come from. She said dune repairs would set into motion options for restoration of the marsh, which is one of the priorities in the refuge's 15-year conservation plan.
Once enough sediment is in place, a low dune will be built at the area near Fowler Beach, Edwards said.
“Sea-level rise and increased coastal storms have been degrading the man-made freshwater marsh system and turning it into an open water, which is not good for wildlife and is not resilient,” Edwards said.
Included among the other projects in 14 states are repairs to visitor centers, water-control structures, boardwalks, trails and bulkheads and debris clean up. In nearby Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which sustained the most damage in Virginia, repairs will be made to roads and buildings. Repairs will be made to the visitor center at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Md., and to visitor facilities at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.