Lewes Beach residents fight dune fencing

DNREC says effort will protect valuable resource
November 15, 2019

Lewes Beach residents are fighting the state’s plans to add dune fencing along the bay beach.

Several people told Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control staff at a Nov. 13 meeting at Lewes City Hall that the existing dune is healthy and growing and does not need protection. A dune fence, they say, would impede their and visitors’ enjoyment of the beach.

“I’ve had a boat on the beach for 45 years … I want to do it for 46 years,” said resident Joe Smith. “Until I can’t sail anymore, I want to be able to keep my boat on the beach.” 

In August, DNREC sent a letter to all Lewes Beach residents asking that they remove boats, kayaks and other items stored on the dune. There was also a threat that any items left in the dune would be removed by city or state officials.

Mike Powell, DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management program manager, said the effort to protect the dune is a result of citizen input over many years. The goal, he said, is to follow state regulations limiting pedestrian use of dunes. The intent, he said, is not to prohibit people from storing their boats on the beach, and accommodations could be made to allow for it to continue. 

He said the existing paths over the dunes would remain, but generally, any walking on the dune is harmful and detrimental to vegetation.

Vegetation, he said, traps windblown sand, and builds dunes larger and stronger.

“We’re fighting a constant battle,” he said. “We need every bit of support we can get … Having stable vegetation is one of the main ways to encourage growth.”

Several residents argued the dune does not need to be any larger, and that pedestrians who have used the dunes have had very little impact.

“The dune is bigger than it’s ever been in my lifetime, so the fundamental question in my mind is: What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” said resident Chip Beaverson. “There’s no evidence that storing boats or anything like that has had a detrimental effect on the dune. The evidence would suggest that it’s bigger and better than it’s ever been.”

While DNREC officials called the dune the first line of defense during coastal storms, resident A. Thomas Owen said the beachfront homes have no history of flooding because all of the water comes from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal side. 

“Before the dune, there was never any water,” he said. “Storm surge doesn’t come over the dune.”

At a meeting in April, former DNREC Shoreline Administrator Tony Pratt made the same point when discussing a possible dune at the public beach at the end of Savannah Road.

“We haven’t taken a wave over the dune anywhere on Lewes Beach in my history,” he said. “Even the Storm of ’62, we didn’t take any waves over Lewes Beach. All the flooding came from the canal side.”

Beaverson said the state has successfully planted grass over the last several years, and the latest effort took the grass down close to the high tide line.

“I’m a big fan of grass planting, but we’ve gotten to the point where there is no beach left,” he said. “People don’t have any room today. When that fence goes in here, there is zero room.”

Powell said it’s not DNREC’s intent to put the fence too close to the water because it could be lost in a storm. He said DNREC is willing to work with residents to find an appropriate place to put the fence where it would allow for enough room for people to enjoy the beach and also provide space for storage of boats, kayaks and other materials.

“Our desire isn’t to put in the fence in a way that will unnecessarily limit the amount of beach that’s available,” Powell said. “We’re absolutely mindful of that.”

Resident Cole Flickinger argued that a dune fence arbitrarily placed along the toe of the dune would eliminate access during certain high tides.

“In July we had a northeast wind for a week straight, and the high tide was at the edge of the grass, and all the people recreating on the beach had nowhere to sit,” he said.

For this particular project, Powell said, it’s better for residents if DNREC uses discretion when placing the fence.

“It would be possible to use elevation criteria to locate the fence line, but I would rather it be done though communication with the city to give [residents] more flexibility to decide where it needs to be,” he said.

Planning Commission member and Lewes Beach resident Sumner Crosby said many of the arguments residents made against the dune fencing are the very reasons why the dune needs to be protected. He said climate change and sea-level rise may eventually change how Lewes Beach is affected by coastal storms.

“The fact that so many have talked about the beach getting narrower and worrying about where we can put our boats should absolutely be the thing that has us working positively with DNREC to protect the houses, the streets, all of the the things we value along this beach,” he said. 

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