Narrow channel for another season on canal

Coffer dam can't be removed until this fall due to state environmental restrictions
May 11, 2022

Story Location:
Gills Neck Road
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

Boaters will have another season of navigating through a narrow channel on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal at the former site of the Lewes railroad swing bridge.

The historic swing bridge was lifted by a crane and transported Feb. 16 to a new permanent location at the end of American Legion Road, where work is taking place to turn the area into a showplace highlighting the history of the bridge, including interpretative signage, benches and landscaping.

A coffer dam, in place to remove sections of the bridge and restore the bank along the canal, can’t be removed because work on the project has been halted due to environmental restrictions on construction in waterways during fish-spawning season.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control prohibits in-water work from March 1 to Sept. 30 for projects within the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal that will alter habitat or introduce noise and vibrations into the water. “Several recreationally and commercially important species use the canal for spawning and as a nursery for young-of-the-year – including summer flounder, striped bass, and white perch. This restriction protects adults from disturbances that might alter or deter spawning and allows young-of-year fish to grow large enough to be less vulnerable to habitat-altering work and/or to migrate out of the canal,” said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti.

Eventually, the coffer dam will be removed and work will start to remove the embankment and widen the channel on the marsh side of the canal, and construction will start on a trailhead and fishing area at the end of the trail along the canal bank.

The project to lift the swing bridge was halted Dec. 1, when it was determined the crane in place could not lift the structure. The weight was estimated at 70 tons, when in actuality, the bridge weighs 102.5 tons or 205,000 pounds.

The Delaware Department of Transportation then hired contractor Digging & Rigging to bring in a 900-ton, all-terrain crane to lift the bridge.

The 106-year-old swing bridge, one of the last remaining hand-cranked railroad bridges in the country, has not been used for nearly five years. The bridge was deemed unsafe in 2017 and closed after the discovery that scouring around its supports in the canal had dropped the bridge's foundation 7 to 8 inches.

The Lewes Junction Railroad & Bridge Association can be credited with saving the bridge from being scrapped. Through the cooperation of DelDOT, the City of Lewes and the association, a plan was developed to save the bridge and find a location to display it.


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