Beachgoers in Fenwick Island started getting a little more sand to rest and recreate upon this week, but the timing was far from welcome for many of those impacted by the work.
Replenishment of the town’s beach had at one point been scheduled to begin June 1, after the contracted dredging company, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, experienced delays in another project that pushed work on all its local projects into the summer. The work in Fenwick Island was then postponed to late August, after a public outcry about the potential impacts of three weeks of beach closures during the height of the town’s tourist season. (A similar uproar had already pushed South Bethany’s replenishment to November.)
Despite that planned late-August start date, dredging activity in Fenwick Island began early this week – during a peak time for summer vacations – and visitors, property owners and local officials were up in arms about the resulting beach closures and other impacts of the work.
“If the long-term economic vitality of the Quiet Resorts is really driving this project, commencement during the peak of tourist season is truly counterproductive,” Fenwick Island Town Manager Win Abbott said mid-week.
Last week, after months of delays and what Abbott described as “mixed messages,” staging for the work began and the federally funded beach replenishment project’s start date appeared imminent. Since the town government doesn’t control its shoreline, Abbott sent a letter of protest to officials at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), citing the impact the early start would have on the tourist season.
“Several vacationers were understandably upset over the unexpected arrival of equipment,” Abbott said, reporting that significant numbers of people had complained about the issue at town hall and to town lifeguards, as well as making calls to the Coastal Point – some of the vacationers saying they planned to leave early.
In addition to the beach closures, some complained of the impacts on the larger shoreline and of a brown-gray clay-like component of the material coming from the dredging that was sticking to beachgoers’ feet.
However, as Abbott noted this week, DNREC only has limited control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, which has “flexibility” in the dredging company’s timeline built into the contract.
With the timeline unexpectedly moved up, Abbot said it was even more troubling to see a full six blocks of beach closed to beachgoers on Tuesday, when the contract had stated that a maximum of three blocks of beach could be closed at any one time.
Abbott contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper – who was responsible, in part, for securing the funding for the mid-cycle replenishment of the area’s beaches from damage sustained in the November 2009 Nor’Ida storm. A Corps liaison quickly acted on the complaint, he said, and the beach closure area was reduced back to the permitted three blocks.
“Everyone is trying to do the best they can with a difficult situation,” said Abbott. “The mayor and council acknowledge that the $4 million project is a great benefit to Fenwick homeowners, renters and the commercial district.”
Abbott offered praise for town staffers and beach patrol members as they dealt with the concerns. “The lobby and phone lines of the Fenwick Island Town Hall were a demonstration of grace under pressure,” he said. “The same can be said of the beach patrol. The staff and management explained that the closures were temporary and would progress southward, with openings occurring each day in the northern part of town.”
Those with bonfire permits for the impacted areas were asked to call town hall for instructions. Abbott said the project engineer has assured the Town that they will build crossover areas at each intersection once they have finished in each work area and advanced to the next one.
The project should conclude no later than Aug. 22, said Abbott.
Beach restoration in Bethany Beach, using the same federal funding for dredging and state equipment and workers for moving the sand, was completed prior to the start of the summer season. Replenishment is also scheduled for South Bethany, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach later this year.
Attempts to reach DNREC officials for comment on this story were unsuccessful as of Coastal Point press time.