For Immediate Release
Kate Hornyan (202) 265-7337
Delaware Has Second Thoughts About Refuge Beach Scraping
Not Enough Sand to Close Dune Breaches and Growing Worry about Habitat Harm
WASHINGTON - A plan to scrape sand from beaches on the Prime Hook National
Wildlife Refuge in order to rebuild dunes shielding private beach homes
has a new critic - the state agency that is supposed to carry it out,
according to a letter released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Delaware Department of Natural
Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) now admits to a number of
reservations about the project that it is co-sponsoring, including that
there is not enough sand on the refuge beaches to close the breaches
that storms have opened in the dunes.
In an August 25, 2010 letter commenting .on the U. S. Fish
& Wildlife Service (FWS operates the refuge) Draft Environmental
Assessment for the project, DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara voices support
for another option than the "Preferred Alternative" put forward by
FWS. Instead of scraping sand from refuge beaches, DNREC suggests
importing sand from elsewhere, provided that DNREC does not have to pay
for it. Besides the insufficient sand on "sand starved" refuge beaches,
DNREC says -
- The project may be counterproductive: "In the long run
allowing the system to self-adjust may enable the existing wetlands to
better keep up with sea level rise";
- "The preferred approach is, admittedly, a short-term solution that may not survive the next Nor'easter"; and
- Damage to habitat for shorebirds, beach-nesting birds and dune plants may be greater than the FWS assessment estimates.
"When even your partner starts getting cold feet, it is time
to step back and take a hard look at what you are doing," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that back in May DNREC sent
two state bulldozers onto Prime Hook Refuge wetlands to scrape sand but
were turned back and since seem to have undergone a change of heart.
That incident is still under investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. "If there is not enough sand, what is the point of spending a
moment more on this project?"
Other practical barriers also loom, including a DNREC concern
that "the time and cost estimates for this approach is significantly
underestimated." DNREC states that the project "should be completed
between October 1 and October 22" to avoid interfering with duck
hunting. But, to date, FWS does not have a single state or federal
permit needed to break ground. In addition, DNREC wants a new
"memorandum of understanding" detailing "obligations and
expectations…including funding limitations" on the state role.
"With friends like DNREC, the Fish & Wildlife Service
does not want for critics," said PEER Counsel Christine Erickson who is
preparing for litigation in the event the Prime Hook dunes project
proceeds further. "The Prime Hooks dune project is an unworkable,
harmful, misguided and short-sighted political fix to a suite of
resource management issues propelled by rising sea levels."
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.