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Refuge Dunes to Be Mined to Shore Up Private Beach Homes

Legality of Scraping Delaware Refuge Beaches Challenged to Prevent Precedent


A plan to scrape sand from dunes at the Prime
Hook National Wildlife Refuge in order to rebuild the dune-line
shielding beach homes is both illegal and ill conceived while setting a
disturbing precedent for the entire refuge system, according to comments
filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). The controversial project would strip refuge beaches to the
detriment of shorebirds, shellfish and other wildlife to shore up
private property at taxpayer expense.

On July
27, 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which operates the
refuge, unveiled the Draft Environmental Assessment for the project.
Bulldozers would mine sand from the refuge to fill in "breaches" created
by recent storms in the dunes north of Prime Hook Beach in Sussex
County. The stated reason for the project, however, is to reduce the
animosity between "some community members and the Service", as local
homeowners have blamed FWS for growing subsidence and flooding.

fact, as FWS admits, the problem is sea level rise and other climate
changes which will inexorably change the contours of the Atlantic
Coast. At the same time, PEER argues that the project will -

  • Violate a number of laws, including the Clean Water Act,Coastal Barrier Resources Act,
    Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the
    Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as laws governing management of the
    refuge system;
  • Contradict the FWS Climate Change Strategy which
    prescribes adapting to sea level rise rather than resisting it through
    engineering efforts; and
  • Be counterproductive. As the FWS assessment admits;

scenario of continual rebuilding of artificial dunes could have
long-term and cumulative negative impacts and consequences....Geologists
recommend that artificial dunes not be rebuilt after storm damage to
allow tidal inlet and overwash formation that reduces the vulnerability
of back-barrier marshes to sea level rise..."

every vantage point, legal, ecological and financial, this project
should not proceed," said PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, noting
that FWS has announced that it expects to begin the work in early
October. "Before bulldozers start pushing sand, they have a number of
legal hurdles to leap."

the announced schedule the project requires a number of state and
federal permits, including wetlands permits from the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. The Corps is still investigating an attempt this May to
begin the work without any of the required permits.

its assessment, FWS admits that the project will do harm refuge habitat
and wildlife but that it feels under pressure to take some action until
it develops a longer-term plan. "Wildlife refuges are supposed to be
run for the benefit of wildlife, not private property owners," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the FWS assessment
does not name the that three adjacent landowners who will be recipients
of "mined refuge sand" to improve their beach properties. Nor does FWS
disclose how much these three private landowners have spent on
protecting their property from storm damage and erosion. "Sandbox
politics should not dictate management of our national wildlife


Read the PEER comments

See the Draft Environmental Assessment for Prime Hook dunes project

Look at the earlier attempt to bulldoze the dunes

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.