Updated: Dune height reduction likely years away, if ever

Those hoping for a reduced height for the new dune in Bethany Beach received some bad news on Tuesday, as the town received a communication from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that indicates that a reduction in dune height is not on the near horizon, if it is to come at all.

Mayor Carol Olmstead told the Coastal Point mid-day Tuesday that she had received a memo from the Corps’ Philadelphia district office that cited recent coverage of the dune height controversy in the local newspaper and suggestions from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control that recent planting of dune grass atop the dunes and construction of dune crossovers would not themselves prevent the state from reducing the dune’s height if it received the go-ahead from the Corps in the future.

“The position of the Philadelphia district regarding the dune height is that it will not be lowered,” Olmstead said in reading from the Corps’ memo to the town. “The Corps will not sacrifice the cost of the dune grass and the crossovers at this time to lower the dune.”

Those hoping for a reduced dune height and a return to a more familiar view of crashing waves from the town’s boardwalk may still hold out hope, according to other portions of the Corps’ memo.

Olmstead said the letter noted that consideration of the possibility of lowering the dune height was continuing as the Corps continues a renewed modeling process to discern possible impacts of such a move on the town’s storm protection. The Corps cited “better modeling algorithms” as part of the months-long process that has been under way since DNREC asked for the consideration of a reduced dune height late last fall.

“We will not have an answer for several months,” the Corps’ letter cautioned, however.
That is likely to dash any notions of a restored ocean view from the boardwalk before the summer season of 2008. Further, the Corps officials, according to Olmstead, held out little hope of a reduction in the dune height – if the Corps were to sanction such a move at all – for what could be several years.

“If it proves that a lower, wider dune can provide the protection needed, it would be left for future renourishment cycles to make that change,” Corps officials said, according to the mayor.

Renourishment after an initial “50-year” beach reconstruction project traditionally takes place in a cycle ranging between two to four years afterward, depending on one the new beach and dune wears in the intervening time. The renourishment efforts are designed to maintain a reconstructed beach at the same dimensions as the original reconstruction project.
The reconstructed beaches in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach are slated for renourishment in 2008 or 2009, according to DNREC estimates and funding requests. They were constructed beginning in 2005.

Olmstead was non-committal Tuesday in her response to the Corps’ letter.

“I think that we have an answer, and I maintain that the town has always felt that that is between DNREC and Army Corps of Engineers to review this. And I guess that’s where they stand right now,” she said.

“It does not mean they are not going to be reviewing it. But people should not be expecting that to happen in the near future,” Olmstead concluded.

Calls to DNREC officials by the Coastal Point were not returned prior to our deadline.

Update: Bethany Beach officials released a statement late on March 6 with text from the Corps letter to the town. It reads as follows:

The Town of Bethany Beach has received notice from United States Army Corps of Engineers that the Corps will not be reducing the height of the Bethany Beach Dune at this time.

Specifically the Corps has advised the Town that “DNREC (Delaware Department of Natural Resources) has been notified that the District’s position is that we will not sacrifice the costs of dune grass and crossovers to lower the dune.”

The Corps, however, is engaged in a significant re-analysis of the dune height needed to afford the Town the protection it needs from coastal storms.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers goes on to say that this re-analysis “is complex and we will not have an answer for several months. If the analysis proves that a lower wider dune can provide the same level of protection, all future renourishment cycles will maintain the dune based on those revised requirements. The existing constructed dune, completed on 23 Feb 08, will not be altered.”