Storm causes beach erosion, flooding


An unnamed storm that lashed the area with high winds and heavy rain late last week, combined with the offshore force of Hurricane Kyle, caused significant beach erosion and flooding along the Delaware coast and inland bays. The late-September storm, despite falling during hurricane season and exhibiting counterclockwise rotation, was not classified as a tropical system but as simply a low-pressure system and therefore was not named.

Nonetheless, the storm left its impact along the shore, as Bethany Beach officials closed the town’s beach at the top of the dune, blocking crossovers with “Keep Out” signs to prevent would-be beach-goers from running afoul of two storm-related dangers: an eroded dune front and broken dune fence, similar to what was sustained in the May 12 nor’easter, and munitions washed up on the beach by the storm. Munitions were spotted along the coast over the weekend, from Bethany Beach south to Fenwick Island.

“While much [debris] has been removed, portions of snow fence, pilings, wooden planks and boards still remain in some locations. For those that may venture to water’s edge, we ask that you use caution when walking the beach,” the town advised on its Web site.

“Beach erosion has caused dangerous conditions of our pedestrian walkways and vehicle ramps leading down to the beach. Unstable footing and sudden ‘drop-off’ exists at many locations. Barriers restricting travel on these walkways and ramps, such as yellow wooden planks, ‘Keep Off’ and ‘Danger’ signs, and yellow tape have been erected for safety concerns. We ask that you please respect these closures and warnings,” they noted.

The following pedestrian ramps leading to the beach were kept open: Fifth Street, Fourth Street, Ocean View Parkway, Oakwood, Maplewood, Ashwood and Cedarwood.

“Realizing these are on the north and south ends of town, our crew has also modified the North Campbell Place pedestrian ramp to allow access to the beach,” the town also noted. “Currently, this is the only ramp in the center of town considered to be safe for pedestrian use. This is also the only ramp that current conditions will allow repair at this time.”

Town officials also noted post-storm that, “In some locations along the water’s edge there is a black filmy substance that has caused some to ask, ‘Is there oil, petroleum or toxic waste on the beach?’ The answer is, ‘No!’ The substance are minerals, consisting of biotite, magnetite, garnet and feldspar.” (More information is available online at www.ocean.udel.edu/seagrant/outreach/faq/black_sand.html.)

The damage from the late-September storm was similar to that from the May 12 nor’easter, which was an outcome predicted by county emergency officials last week.

“While this is hurricane season, this is not a tropical system, but more like the nor’easters common here during the winter months,” Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Director Joseph L. Thomas noted Sept. 24, in advance of the storm. “Nevertheless, many of the effects could be the same – beach erosion, tidal flooding and power outages are all possibilities in the next few days.”

Residents in low-lying tidal areas – particularly along Sussex County’s Inland Bays – were advised to ensure that submersible pumps were working, storm drains were clear of debris and automobiles were moved from flood-prone locations.

Pennsylvania Avenue flooded again

The impact of that warning in Bethany Beach was unclear over the weekend, as flood-prone Pennsylvania Avenue once again turned into a tidal lake that some motorists still continued to cross. The ongoing flooding there – despite the lack of it from Tropical Storm Hanna on Sept. 6 – continued to raise concerns for home owners, as the town considers whether to take on the multi-million-dollar job of enhancing drainage there.

“Our members of council cannot say the flooding is because the bay is full from the tropical storm that has passed,” said Third Street resident Donald Brown after the storm. “It was low tide a 1:46 p.m. on the Indian River Inlet on Sept. 28.

“This is typical whenever we have a rainstorm,” he said. “Properties get damaged not only from the high water, but also from the cars that think it is time to race along the avenue or intersecting streets to see how high the spray will go.”

Brown laid blame for the problem on the town and the drainage system in the area.

“Some of the drains near the Loop Canal will have minnows swimming in them, while others can’t drain at all,” he pointed out. “Many of the drains are caving in. The lack of interest is for correcting the drainage problem is because the members of council make sure they don’t have to face the problems of those that are faced with this situation far too often.”

Town Manager Cliff Graviet this week acknowledged the problem with the drainage system but said the town’s ability to control flooding in a storm like last week’s is limited.

“A low tide in a tidal storm is still a tidal storm,” he said. “The problem with Pennsylvania Avenue is that in order to repair the drainage system, we have to use dewatering techniques. Every so many feet … it has to be dewatered, and that’s a very costly process. The cost just to try to restore drainage system that does not work on Pennsylvania Avenue is in excess of $2 million.

“And when that’s completed, it will not resolve any of the flooding issues involved with tidal storm events,” he added. “It won’t even resolve many of the significant rain events with a tidal storm.”

Despite that, Graviet said the town is still pursuing improvements that are hoped to improve the flooding problem in the area.

“It’s on our capital projects list,” he said. “The council and the town have tried to look for federal monies, since we were not successful looking for DelDOT monies. We are actively looking, and applications have been submitted. It even made it to one of the earmarks this year but wasn’t numbered. But we will make application again in the next budget cycle.

“It’s not off the table,” Graviet emphasized. “We’re doing what said were going to do. If it was something we could fix and that would have a real impact, I think everybody would be working as hard as they could on it. But we know we will not be resolving tidal flooding.”

Waves and inland waterways rise

As some motorists threw caution to the wind to drive down flooded Pennsylvania Avenue, so also did surfers ignore warnings that ocean swimming was not being advised during and after the storm, since surf conditions were extremely rough and many beach patrols had ended coverage for the season. Surfers instead took advantage of wave heights in excess of 6 feet, and at least one flipper-equipped swimmer headed into the churning waters off Bethany Beach on Sunday morning without a board.

Inland, those residing along bays and creeks continued to see heavy flooding through the weekend, with tide levels well above normal. Coastal flood advisories had already been common in the area in recent weeks, with the storm adding further height to those peaks. One Dagsboro-area resident reported having a personal watercraft float away from the top of the dock upon which the craft had been elevated for safety.

Water levels on area creeks and bays remained high mid-week this week.

Public reminded not

to touch munitions

Public-safety officials reminded those who may come upon munitions on area beaches to leave them where they are – do not touch them – and call 911. When calling in, the reporting person should be as specific as possible as to the location and the description of the object(s), they said.

Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit members this weekend noted that several citizens who had located military ordnance had actually handled the objects in an attempt to move them to a “safe location.”

“This act, although done with the best intentions, put the citizens in danger,” officials said. “The EOD members who were called in to secure these items have an extensive amount of training and possess the proper equipment to perform their duties safely.”

Intermediate beach fixes due in coming weeks

With significant damage done again to the town’s new dune, just four months after their repair from previous damage and less than a year after the start of their construction, Bethany Beach employees were out again on Friday and through the weekend in what could become a regular exercise for them: picking up bits of damaged dune fence and warning beach-goers away from dangerous spots until larger repairs can be made to the shoreline.

“The Town went out and cleaned up as much as we could to facilitate the repair,” Graviet said, noting that the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is responsible for restoration of the dune, as well as the snow fence and dune crossovers.

“This is going to be repetitive for us,” Graviet acknowledged. “We’ll aim to restore some access to the beach as quickly as we can, and to clean up. The damage was not as significant as the May storm, but if it’s a significant storm, it creates a dual safety hazard,” he added. “The Town’s plan is to continually work with DNREC to restore the beach or the dune, or any damage, in a way that minimizes the future loss, if we can.”

For his part, DNREC’s Tony Pratt – program administrator with the Shoreline and Waterways Division – said the department hoped to begin repairs to the dunes, fencing and dune crossovers in the next two weeks.

“Depending upon how quickly nature brings back enough sand to push back into the crossings and the availability of the crew,” Pratt said Wednesday of the timetable for those repairs. “We have four guys tasked, with all of the ocean coast to clean up,” he noted.

In the case of neighboring South Bethany, those clean-up chores will be limited. The town only lost some of its dune fence to the late-September storm and suffered minimal impact on the beach and dune themselves.

“They’ll begin tacking the fence back up in South Bethany,” Pratt said of intermediate steps in repairing area beaches from the storm. “And we’ve been cleaning up areas where a lot of fence and posts are down. It’s a hazard – especially since people are still using the beach.”

The main component in establishing a timetable for repairs to the dune area in Bethany Beach is Mother Nature herself, Pratt said.

“We’ll be keeping an eye on it, and when there’s enough material mounded back up on the beach, we’ll begin that work. We’re hoping that will be within the next two weeks,” he said, noting that anticipated west winds mid-week would help build the beach back more quickly. “By next week, we hope to see enough sand to start moving it around,” he added.

Bethany’s beach to get more sand

At the state and federal level, those involved in reconstruction of the town’s beach last winter and spring are looking at how to improve the long-term health of the project – including preventing future damage to the dune like that seen in these two major storms in the reconstructed beach’s first season. The question is whether – as Graviet suggested – the need to perform such repairs will become a regular one.

“We hope not,” said Pratt. “That’s why we’ll be doing this work to broaden the beach out in front.”

That’s right – there’s more sand coming to Bethany Beach in the near future. Graviet said he was told Sept. 26 that plans now include additional sand for the Bethany Beach shoreline this winter.

“Look at South Bethany and the south end of Bethany Beach, where we did not have problems,” Pratt explained. “The difference is the width of the beach. If we can get enough sand on the beach, the dune should survive storms like this without having this problem reoccur.”

Pratt this week confirmed the newest plans to add sand to Bethany’s shoreline, saying that while a timetable and template for the new phase of the project is not yet available, he has been told by Corps officials that additional dredging work will take place sometime this winter, adding a reported 200,000 cubic yards of sand to the central and northern sections of the town’s reconstructed beach.

“The theory is that [the sand] moved out of Bethany Beach more rapidly than anticipated,” Pratt said. “The beach was made much wider here than it was before, and relative to the beaches to the south and north. And when it was finished, up to 1 mile to the north it looked like a big bulge in the beach.

“Nature begins to chip away at that, and particularly at the leading edge of the direction where sand flows,” he explained. “We saw this in Rehoboth, where we had a loss of sand in the north of Rehoboth and a widening of the state park beaches to the north. The sand moves out to make a straighter-line coast. And the sacrifice in the north end of Bethany has resulted in stabilization of the beach to the north.”

Pratt said the additional sand in the central and northern areas of the town’s beach is planned as a way of, hopefully, stabilizing that section of newly widened beach. It stands a stronger chance of stabilizing than when the area was originally widened, he said, since the shoreline to the north has now itself been stabilized by the sand that has since drifted from Bethany.

“We hope putting this sand in will stop the loss in Bethany Beach,” Pratt said this week. “Then we can address it more fully in the first renourishment, when we have evaluated how the beach and dune system seem to be performing.”

Dune height change still up in the air

Those who might have hoped that the latest planned addition of sand in Bethany Beach would mean a possible reduction in the 16-foot dune height in the near future will have to continue to wait, however. Pratt explained this week that the work this winter is to be an extension of the contract that created the widened beach and dune in the first place.

“The Corps felt that since a dredge was going to be in the area, working in Dewey, and since there was money unspent from the initial appropriation for Bethany and South Bethany – because that bid came in lower than expected – and since the north end of Bethany Beach was already suffering some problems, they could expend that money with another option in the (Dewey-Rehoboth Beach) contract to put sand in Bethany,” Pratt said. “Money was still available under that appropriation.”

Thus, the work in Bethany Beach this winter won’t be considered a part of the “first renourishment,” in which the Corps said it might consider reducing the dune height by 2 feet, per DNREC’s request. Instead, that decision will still wait on the official first renourishment – anticipated some three to four years in the future.

Meanwhile, anticipated renourishment in Rehoboth Beach is not going to go forward this year after all, Pratt noted. That is due to the opposite situation of what will allow Bethany to get its additional sand this winter – the Rehoboth-Dewey project bids came in higher than the funds appropriated for it. The Corps decided to scrap the Rehoboth replenishment for now.

“Because the bid was so high, Dewey gets sand and Rehoboth does not,” Pratt said. “Dewey was chosen over Rehoboth because the sand moves from south to north there. So the sand they put in in Dewey will help keep in Rehoboth’s in place.”

Pratt said DNREC is anticipating the issuance of a “notice to proceed” from the Corps in the near future. That will be the go-ahead signal for the contractor on the Dewey beach renourishment, leading up to the planned addition of sand in Bethany later this year. In the meantime, state and town employees will be working to effect intermediate repairs to the shoreline to restore access and eliminate safety concerns after last week’s storm.