Lewes should take a lesson from Washington state

April 1, 2014

The Highland Heights proposal currently before the Lewes Planning Commission would convert state-defined wetlands into a 69-house residential development. This proposal has come at a time when Lewes residents are already gravely concerned about the preparedness of Lewes to deal with its present drainage issues and with ongoing sea level and climate change. This proposed subdivision crystallizes these issues into sharp focus.

Too many times communities have ignored the warnings of experts in planning around geological and climatic truth. Hillside residential construction in rural Washington State went against all prevailing advice from experts.

Putting so many homes in that location placed people, often unknowingly, at risk for death and loss. Going back, though, is the possible human causation for the event itself. In the Sunday, March 30 Washington Post page A8 article about the tragedy is the following statement:

Rows of conifer trees that helped to mitigate erosion by sucking water through their roots and releasing it into the atmosphere were chopped down by loggers. Rain fell on the bald spots they left, drenching dirt and sand, making the mountain even more precarious.

Translating this situation to that of Lewes means taking a hard look at the reality of this existing forest of swamp maples. They are perfectly adapted for success in saturated soil and for drawing the water into their branches and leaves and releasing it as cooled air. The area around this wetland is already in the grips of dealing with drainage and flooding issues.

How much difference would this wetland make if we were to succumb to a breach of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal wall in a storm surge or a creek flooding after a hurricane inundation? Does any of us know? One thing we do know is that all these clues and advice and others, if we ignore them, will come back and haunt us.

Frankie Bradshaw

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