$7.8 million restoration of Mispillion Harbor completed

Mispillion Harbor is nationally and internationally recognized for attracting large numbers of migrating shorebirds that stop here every spring during their northbound migration to refuel on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crab eggs. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

MILFORD — During the celebration of the completion of restoration and resiliency work at Mispillion Harbor on Friday, U.S. Sen Chris Coons told an amusing anecdote about the time he brought Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse down to “experience” the harbor. Sen. Whitehouse claimed that witnessing the mass horseshoe crab spawning and resulting red knot feeding frenzy Delaware’s bay beaches are famous for was on his “bucket list.”

Sen. Chris Coons

“He really wanted to experience that endless buffet of the red knot feast so he actually went out on the beach, flipped over a horseshoe crab and took a scoop full of horseshoe crab eggs and tried them.” said Sen. Coons. “After that he stood up and said: ‘Hm. Salty, but tasty.’”

Although proud of the reconstruction work at the harbor, Sen. Coons said he plans to let Sen. Whitehouse keep the distinction of being the only Senator to actually eat a handful of horseshoe crab eggs.

The gathering of the state’s congressional delegation, state senators and representatives and other well-wishers marked the completion of the three-year project to restore the harbor in the wake of damage inflicted by a series of coastal storms — including 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Federal funds totaling $5.8 million through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Fish & Wildlife Foundation were paired with $2 million in state matching funds to complete restoration and to create a “longer-term plan for restoring the integrity of Milford Neck’s marshlands and forest habitat.”

“Mispillion Harbor is globally renowned for the spring spawning of horseshoe crabs and the migrating shore birds who stop here to refuel on horseshoe crab’s eggs before continuing the long journey north,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “This unique area with its sheltered sandy beaches and calm waters provides idea conditions for both the horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.”

According to DNREC, the work completed this spring included:

• The existing rock structure – originally constructed in the 1980s to protect the harbor – was raised by an average of 3.5 feet
to a height of 6 feet over a distance of 2,300 linear feet, and was extended westward by an additional 400 feet, tying into the existing dune. To increase stability, the base of the structure also was broadened by 18 feet.

• Sandy beach areas were expanded by adding 40,000 cubic yards of sand along the inside of the rock structure between the north groin and south groin, and on the south side of the south groin.

• Five new groins ranging from 80-150 feet were constructed perpendicular to the rock structure to hold the sand in place.

• Swains Beach was restored by adding 500 cubic yards of sand, after removing materials used as riprap by a previous owner, including: concrete waste, two truckloads of old tires, two truckloads of metal debris and other waste. Also, volunteers planted 5,000 beach grass plugs to help hold the sand in place.

Pleased with the results, Sen. Coons claims that the work can help protect the harbor from future storms.

“Superstorm Sandy was a disaster — it was one of the most expensive and lethal hurricanes in American history,” he said. “It caused $68 billion in damage. Yet, in this particular place, it created the catalyst — the opportunity — for us to come together with nonprofit, private sector, federal and state funding and to do not just restoration of the damage caused by Sandy, but to invest in some resiliency programs and projects that has turned out far better than we could have hoped or expected.”

For the Milford Neck conservation area, hydrodynamic modeling, restoration alternatives and a restoration plan were collaboratively developed by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and Delaware Wild Lands, who collectively own 10,000 acres of Milford Neck.

Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester were two of the speakers at Friday’s rehabilitation announcement at the DuPont Nature Center.

DNREC claims the restoration of the harbor will aid the recovery of the federally-listed “threatened” red knot by helping to provide a stable food source in a protected area and offer a safe haven for spawning horseshoe crabs. They feel the work at Mispillion Harbor, Milford Neck and associated navigable waterways will also benefit local residents and visitors.

The completed work also targeted maintaining tidal flow through coastal marshes, supporting local communities and enhancing recreational and commercial boating and fishing access.

According to DNREC, restoration work planned for Milford Neck will expand on the benefits from the Mispillion Harbor restoration, further facilitating movement of storm and spring tide waters throughout the tidal marsh system that weaves through Slaughter Beach, Milford Neck, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and other state conservation areas.

For U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who also spoke during the event, the restoration project is a testament to the idea of “legacy.”
Before coming to the event, she said she’d read about a particular red knot known as “B-95,” who was tagged and tracked by wildlife experts for over three decades. The red knot repeatedly stopped at the harbor every year to refuel for the spring journey up north. It’s estimated that the bird traveled more than 500,000 miles over the course of its life.

“This is about legacy, it’s about creating and maintaining a better world for our children,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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