Hurricane Sandy brings good news to Cape Region

February 5, 2013

Hurricane Sandy just missed Delaware, instead slamming head-on into New Jersey and New York City.

But for Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the people who live near it, the Atlantic Ocean’s largest tropical storm system ever might just be the best thing that’s happened in years. Since 2008, when storms breached the dunes at Fowler’s Beach, saltwater pouring in has overwhelmed the preserve’s wetlands. Once-thriving freshwater marshes are now drowning in saltwater, and even without a storm, high tides flood roads and marsh-side homes.

Marsh-side Primehook Beach residents for years have been asking wildlife officials to close the breaches, but while residents waited through long delays as the federal bureaucracy developed a plan, the breaches have grown so wide that closing them seems almost impossible. Restoring the marsh will require enough sediment to raise the marsh and plant vegetation that thrives in saltwater.

Finding enough money for that project appeared an insurmountable obstacle until Sandy. Federal fish and wildlife officials say because Hurricane Sandy accelerated damage to Prime Hook, the refuge is among 25 refuges to be repaired using hurricane-relief funds.

Thanks to Sandy, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is set to become the centerpiece of a $20 million project – one of the largest coastal marsh restorations ever undertaken on the Atlantic coast.

While it’s a major project by East Coast standards, the Prime Hook marsh project cannot hold back the rising tide forever.

Sandy shows that Primehook Beach, Broadkill Beach, bayside communities and Delaware’s ocean resorts remain highly vulnerable to rising sea level. Delaware not only escaped the full wrath of Sandy; the hurricane has given officials more time to develop a strategic response to climate change.

Hurricane Sandy has done the Cape Region a favor. Let’s not let it slip away without taking action.

Note: State officials will present information on the effects of sea-level rise from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Cape Henlopen High School. The public is urged to attend.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.