White Creek dredge staging

Dredging work on White Creek is being staged, but a small section of the creek is no longer scheduled to be included in that project, as it is not considered a repeat or maintenance dredge, since prior dredging in that section is not documented, according to state officials.

Boaters on White Creek eager to see the waterway dredged so boats can stop getting stuck in the mud at low tide are disappointed that the last eighth-mile — the eastern prong of the creek — is not going to be dredged after all.

James Bew, who lives on Cristy Lane in Ocean View, said he learned of the change in plans in the $4.7 million project after reading bid contract specifications on the DNREC website.

When he reached Joanna French, DNREC’s engineer program manager at the Division of Watershed Stewardship’s shoreline and waterway management section, he said, she told him she “failed to update the wording on the website and the bid contract specifications,” and said the dredging project is considered maintenance — not first-time dredging.

Since officials couldn’t verify if that last portion had ever been dredged before, it would have to be done during another, separate first-time dredging project.

“All of the neighbors are going, ‘Are you out of your minds?’ It’s absurd. It could be done in three hours, four hours, while they’re there. It’s not like it’s a small topic, a miniscule topic, or something. They are going to leave out all of us at the end of the creek,” Bew said.

Neighbors who have lived on that street for the past couple decades told Bew they are certain there was dredging in the past, that they remember when it was done, around 2000, and it would not be new dredging.

Bew forwarded to Coastal Point an e-mail exchange with French, in which she thanked Bew “for bringing up the discrepancy between the wording on the website and the bid contract specifications.”

“For the Eastern Prong, the permit that was approved and issued only allows dredging up to 300 feet upstream of the Cottages of White Creek boat ramp. Additionally, the dredge is required to maintain a 35-foot buffer between the Federal and State jurisdictional wetlands and the channel in the 300-foot area upstream of the Cottages of White Creek boat ramp. The reason for this permit determination was that previous dredging upstream of the Cottages of White Creek could not be validated. This project is for maintenance dredging and does not allow new dredging, which was defined by the permit authority as the area above,” French wrote.

French replied to the Coastal Point’s request for comment, but said she was required to forward the matter to the public affairs office. There was no reply by this week’s print deadline.

“There are six docks and 10 waterfront homes here, and five of them have boats,” Bew said.

“We have people here who are really upset about this. It’s awful. As a boater, I haven’t been able to take our boat out. We have to sometimes go out at three in the morning to catch the tides right. We have to go to the marina and wait if tides are wrong, because we couldn’t get back to our dock. It restricts tremendously the activities we can do, because we have to plan around the tides. We have a four- or five-hour window of time twice a day that we can’t get in and out. At those times, there is no water. No water at all. The boat is on sand,” Bew said.

“This decision is disastrous for us,” he added. “We were very excited, because we are constantly trying to help other boaters off the mud flats. Their boats get stuck, and we throw them a line. So after I read about the change on the website, I called the other homeowners in this area and Sen. [Gerald] Hocker’s officer and [state Rep.] Ron Gray’s office and made them aware. I didn’t talk to them directly but to the people in their offices, and their administrations told me they weren’t aware of this change,” Bew added.

Bew said one of his neighbors talked to Jesse Hayden, engineer program manager at DNREC.

By e-mail, that neighbor informed others who live there that, while the conversation was pleasant, Hayden “was not very encouraging that anything would change this year. … I asked who approves the permit and was advised [it was] another branch of DNREC. I asked if should not DNREC have records of the scope of the previous dredging, and he agreed they should, but they don’t,” the neighbor wrote.

The Sussex County Council, at its Tuesday, Jan. 31, meeting, approved a memorandum-of-understanding with DNREC to form a funding partnership for the project, near Bethany Beach. Dredging will “deepen the navigation channel of the creek that links the Indian River Bay and Assawoman Canal, both popular waterways among recreational boaters in eastern Sussex,” according to officials.

Sussex County has contributed $1 million, using funds from the County’s portion of the accommodations tax — a 3-percent tax on all lodging at hotels, motels and tourist homes in unincorporated parts of Sussex County. The accommodation tax is earmarked for projects including beach nourishment, dredging, economic development, water quality and flood control and has generated $1.9 million, according to officials.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.