Herring Point jetties to get restoration

It appears that, due to overwhelming support from the local community, the Herring Point jetties system will most likely get the restoration it so desperately needs.

Several local interest groups — including the Surfrider Foundation, Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, Friends of Cape Henlopen State Park and the Fort Miles Historical Society, in conjunction with a host of individual supporters — re-amplified their interests and concerns in a packed Jan. 11 public hearing, hoping to save the withering sliver of the Cape Henlopen State Park beachfront in Lewes.

Currently, the jetties/groin system is in shambles.

The jetties stand detached from the mainland at high tide, which allows sand to wisp by easily to the north. Ancient stumps have reemerged from their long slumber underneath the once-firm groin, creating a series of hazards for swimmers and surfers. And, because the beach has been eaten away by nature and disrepair, the dunes and bluffs have retreated into the parking lot — which is now partially closed. All combined, it gives the impression that Herring Point is collapsing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s washing away at a terrible rate,” Surf Fishermen Secretary Austin Sutch said.

The proposed restoration project calls for a complete refurbishment and reattachment of both north and south jetties. That restoration would occur in phases, running to the adjacent bluffs, which would stand up to 7 feet above mean sea level. If the project were to go forward, though, there would be limitations imposed on certain users during the process — in particular, the Mobile Surf Fishermen.

Fishermen would have restricted vehicle use during the restoration project.

“The central section between the two jetties would be closed off to us, but we’d still have two entrances, north and south of the jetties, for us to use,” Sutch said.

“In my opinion, it needs to get done,” Sutch continued, “because doing nothing is not an option.”

The north jetty would be repaired first, leaving the south jetty for a later date and allowing the sand to build up on the north end.

And at the urging of these local interest groups, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is currently going through the permit process to begin the restoration project and should make an announcement about the project via the Web site in the near future, according to Surfrider Foundation member and public hearing speaker Mark Carter.

And though the majority of the people in attendance at the recent public hearing were in favor of the restoration project, there were some — particularly renowned coastal conservationist and Western University professor Rob Young — who stood against the project, primarily because they feel it’s only a matter of time before Mother Nature wipes away any progress. Maybe local residents should start developing alternative solutions to protecting such national landmarks, opponents said.

“Restoring the groin system will not stop the bluff erosion, and I’m not sure that it will improve the wave to back when your grand-pappy surfed there,” Young said. “I’m not here to rain on everyone’s parade. The rehab will certainly add some beach width, but I don’t think this project is the answer.”

“This is a brute-force answer to keeping the shoreline intact when one bang-up nor’easter can still bang out that parking lot and will certainly cause environmental harm to the north,” he continued. “I just don’t see this project as the panacea to save Herring Point.”

Robert Martin, a retired member of the Army Corps of Engineers, declared that, in his experience, “a groin 50 feet high wouldn’t save Herring Point.”

There a many variables that will impact the outline of the coastline for many years to come, including global warming and weather patterns. But, in the meantime, many in the area want to reclaim their beach break.

“To a degree, it is a band-aid solution,” Milford resident and long-time Herring Point surfer Carter said. “But it’s something where we’re all reading from the same sheet of music.”