For Immediate Release
Dune Scraping by Delaware State Agency on Refuge is Illegal
State Resource Agency Violates its Own Laws and Federal Wetland Protections
WASHINGTON - A Delaware state agency sent its bulldozers
to work on dunes inside a federal national wildlife refuge without
required permits in apparent violation of both state and federal laws,
according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pursuant to an earlier PEER
complaint, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already investigating
potential criminal violations of the wetland provisions of the Clean
Water Act by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and
Environmental Control (DNREC) for the same dunes work.
On May 3, 2010, DNREC sent two state bulldozers onto wetlands
within the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to scrape sand from
dunes. The stated reason for the work was to repair "breaches" created
by recent storms in the dunes north of Prime Hook Beach in Sussex
County. Currently, the area is experiencing flooding from direct tidal
flow out of Delaware Bay via several new small inlets (or breaches) into
back-barrier wetland areas.
As seen on local TV footage, the work took place directly
beneath an active osprey nest with a pair of adult osprey and young.
The beach scraping also started during peak spawning of horseshoe crabs
and shorebird nesting.
In addition to violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and the
National Historic Preservation Act, the PEER complaint asks DNREC
Secretary Collin O'Mara to review whether his agency violated the very
laws it is supposed to be upholding, including the state Subaqueous
Lands Act and the Beach Preservation Act. In addition, the DNREC work
appeared to start without required public notices.
Ironically in January 2010, DNREC denied a permit to the Prime
Hook Beach Organization, Inc. for sand scraping to rebuild dunes - work
similar to what DNREC is now doing without a permit. In the Secretary's
Order denying the permit to the homeowners, Mr. O'Mara stated that
"merely shifting sand from one location to another on the same beach"
does little to provide long-term protection from erosion.
"We are dumbfounded that the state agency which is supposed to
protect natural resources is behind the bulldozers," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that besides the harmful effects on
wildlife the project negatively impacts beach and wetland habitats
which are dependent on storm surge breach and overwash sand formations
to adjust to climate change and sea-level rise. "DNREC cannot hold back
the sands of change that are transforming Delaware's beaches and
Coincidentally or not, this is the same area where one year ago,
the state Department of Transportation engaged in illegal ditching,
draining and building culverts on Fowler Beach and Prime Hook Beach
Roads near property owned by State Representative V. George Carey,
former chair of the Natural Resources Committee.
"Lightning does strikes twice in the same place unless there is
an outside cause," Ruch added. "Whatever mistakes DNREC has made, we
hope that they were not driven by pork barrel politics."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.