Delaware must work to preserve Prime Hook

October 26, 2019

The news of the recent award to the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge by the Climate Adaptation Leadership for Natural Resources as reported in the Cape Gazette of Oct. 4 is wonderful, as it is certainly well deserved. But the work to protect the refuge, as well as the whole Delaware shoreline that protects it from the Delaware Bay, is far from done.

Unless the governor takes prompt action, an important federal/state partnership will expire Nov. 30, exposing the entire Delaware Bay shoreline and the refuge, as well as adjacent communities, farmlands and forests, to the continuing ravages of rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and severe winter storms.  

We live in Prime Hook Beach, which sits at the south end of the refuge. Only a few years ago, the refuge was flooded by saltwater following repeated storms that broke through the bay dunes at Fowler Beach, destroying much of the refuge’s marsh and surrounding trees, damaging homes on the refuge’s borders, and rendering hundreds of acres of adjacent farmland untillable.

Years later, after the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars of federal and state funds, the dunes at Fowler Beach have been repaired and reinforced, and the refuge is on its way to being restored to its former glory. 

We have a clear view from our porch of this beautiful site. However, we need Climate Adaptation Leadership on the bayside of our house where our dune of 40 feet in 2002 is now nothing.

We had hopes of the execution of the project known as The Beneficial Uses of Dredges Materials from the Delaware River, which is to maintain 29 miles of bay beaches from Lewes to Pickering for 50 years. This is a project with the Army Corps of Engineers paying 65 percent and Delaware via DNREC, the designated non-federal partner, paying 35 percent, which seems a very good deal.

We frequently see new reports of such 65/35 split projects for Delaware’s ocean beaches. There is no justification for denying bay beach communities similar equity. Moreover, given that Delaware’s bay shoreline is twice the length of its ocean coast, its greater total exposure to winter nor’easters coupled with the absence of replenishment will cause an even greater loss of land - beaches, farmland and forests – to our tiny state. 

Failure to replenish the bay shoreline will make it a matter of not whether - but when - the bay will break through the tiny spit on which Prime Hook Beach sits and again destroy the Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, thereby wasting the $40 million just spent on refuge dune reinforcement and marsh restoration. 

With the project set to expire on Nov. 30, our hope is that the governor will quickly demonstrate leadership and see to it that state officials meet the terms of the Army Corps of Engineers and not ignore the bay beaches, the wildlife refuges, and farmlands beyond the beaches that will suffer again, as they did before the closure of the Fowler breaches and the overwash from the Jonas Storm of 2016.

Richard and Lucy Huffman
Prime Hook Beach


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