Recent storms that pummeled the Delaware coastline have sent town officials and organization chairs back to the drawing boards and back to their wallets. Although the money invested in building the dunes and reconstructed beaches two years ago has been credited with saving countless residences and businesses, and perhaps lives, the recovery from such devastation is no quick turnaround.
Representatives from the towns of Bethany Beach and South Bethany joined U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Administrator Tony Pratt last Friday, Dec. 18, to look at the storm damage and the erosion caused by last month’s “Veteran’s Day” storm.
“We’ve started the recovery process,” said Pratt. “Some sand has been pushed back up toward the dunes, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done.”
Debris, including large amounts of dune fencing, littered the beaches after wind and rain paired with rising water levels in late November.
“We’ve cleaned up most of the damage,” said Pratt. The next step is the tough one, with no guaranteed timeline as of yet.
“Now,” said Pratt, “we’re looking for cooperation from the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers, and for funding. That is one reason the senator [Carper] is here today. We are trying to get the federal assistance we need to rebuild the dunes we had.
“The beach communities are responsible for 65 percent of the maintenance cost of this project,” Pratt noted. “We’d like to tap into that, as well as get the federal government, to provide the funding necessary to get dredges back in here and restore the sand along the beach. Our aim is to put the dune back together and get us back to where we were. We want to give [the community] the protection we had before the storm.”
Erosion of the dune faces in South Bethany and Bethany Beach left significant drop-offs – up to 17 feet in some areas. The storm also caused numerous breaches of the dunes that left their western sides flooding, along with the tidal flooding that left many areas of the Delaware coast underwater – although officials noted that there were minimal reports of structural damage to homes or businesses.
Assessment of the beaches by representatives from DNREC and the Corps, from Fenwick Island to Rehoboth Beach, began shortly after the storm, and damage to the Delaware coast was estimated to cost up to $20 million to repair.
Federal funding is not likely to be seen before the summer of 2010, Pratt noted.
“If we receive no financial help before then,” said Pratt, “people can expect to see new fencing up in the spring. We’ll also start to replant [dune grass] on what’s left of the front face of the dunes.”
Carper added that, while supplemental federal funding is not readily available, the need for rebuilding the dunes is definitely urgent.
“The dunes are a great investment,” he emphasized. “They did the job they were supposed to do. They saved these towns a lot of money, and protected homes, businesses, sewer systems, and roads and infrastructure. It cost money to create these dunes, and it’s not cheap, but we will definitely take a look at our possibilities and options at the federal level.”