Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge now has nearly $40 million in federal funds to not only restore the beach and fill in breaches, but to also begin the long process of rebuilding 4,000 acres of destroyed marsh.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Oct. 24 that the refuge will receive $19.8 million as part of a $162 million allocation for 45 restoration and research projects to protect Atlantic Coast communities from future storms. The money is in addition to $20 million allocated in May to address dune breaches.
Project Leader Al Rizzo said the first phase of marsh restoration is replenishing the dune and beach that once provided a protective barrier for refuge marshes. A series of storms over the past five years have opened a series of breaches, allowing tidal saltwater to flood into the marshes. The area is particularly vulnerable during storms.
Rizzo said as much as 4,000 acres of marsh has been destroyed by saltwater; last October's Hurricane Sandy only exacerbated the problem. Much of the area is now open water.
The marsh restoration project, which is at the top of the list of all work planned within the refuge's comprehensive conservation plan, will use the two saltmarshes – Units 1 and 4 – as templates for work in the refuge's two other impoundments. The refuge contains four impoundments, known as units. For nearly 20 years, Unit 2 and Unit 3 were primarily freshwater habitats established in the 1980s.
“They can no longer be sustained, but they had a great run for more than 20 years,” Rizzo said.
The loss of marsh has also caused serious flooding issues for nearby Delaware Bay communities, particularly Primehook Beach.
Still yet to be determined is the source of sand for beach replenishment and marsh restoration.
Delaware's Congressional delegation helped secure funding for the refuge.
“I helped to lead an all-hands-on-deck effort to secure funding to not only help Delawareans recover, but to rebuild smarter to help protect our coastal communities against future storms. I'm pleased to hear this funding will be used to support this strategy,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat.
“This investment is an important part of creating a sustainable solution for the refuge, and those who live in the community whose lives are disrupted any time a storm hits the coastline,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney.