Construction of Little Creek boat ramp and pier underway

The finished lot will have up to 21 parking spaces with several extra spots for DNREC enforcement vehicles and the fire company. The main features will be a boat ramp with a courtesy dock, kayak EZ Launch and an 80-foot aluminum pier running along the Little River. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

LITTLE CREEK — The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has broken ground on what will become the Little Creek boat launch, fishing pier and attached parking lot.

Division of Fish and Wildlife construction manager Jeremey Ashe, along with contractor George & Lynch, Inc., expects the approximately $1.82 million project to reach its “substantial completion” date in mid-October.

“The finished lot will have up to 21 parking spaces with several extra spots for DNREC enforcement vehicles and the fire company,” said Mr. Ashe. “The main features will be a boat ramp with a courtesy dock, kayak EZ Launch and an 80-foot aluminum pier running along the Little River.”

A multi-stage project, the groundwork was laid for the pier back in 2015 after a $1.01 million state-funded dredging of the Little River. It was last dredged in 1982. After the recent dredging, it was brought to an estimated depth of 5 feet at average low tide and 40 feet wide in the river portions.

Fish and Wildlife director David Saveikis said the state’s rationale for the investment was, in part, to make it more accessible to the public.

“We want to expand public boating and fishing access to the Little River and Delaware Bay, while providing an ecotourism destination as part of the Delaware Bayshore Initiative that will benefit the Town of Little Creek,” he said.

“Public boating safety will also be enhanced by providing permanent, in-water docking for a Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police patrol boat and a Little Creek Fire Department boat.”

DNREC’s 2016-2019 Capital Plan claimed the ramp will “boost recreational opportunities and tourism by providing water access to the Little River for boats, kayaks and canoes.”

“Around this time of year the marshes can get kind of buggy, but in the fall and early spring, kayaking through that area is beautiful,” said Mr. Ashe. “The fishing is also really good right there — white perch is pretty popular, blue crabs, American eel, catfish and even croaker, I believe, can all be caught there.”

Mr. Ashe notes that construction on marshland can often be an engineering feat, so they’re taking special pains to ensure the foundation will hold up to weather and tidal conditions.

“There’s a stone foundation under the parking lot with special geofabric and geogrid to give it structure so it won’t crack, crumble and fall into the marsh,” said Mr. Ashe. “We’ve installed a lot of ramps in marshy and mucky areas before so this is no different.

“We have to install several wood piles that are 30 to 40 feet long underneath the ramp. We want to make sure that it can stand up to nor’easters, floods and hurricanes over time — it’s also designed to remain functional during those conditions as well.”

Though the mouth of the Little River, where it meets the Delaware Bay, is prone to shoaling, Mr. Saveikis is not anticipating it to be an issue for boat navigation.

“It is anticipated that regular boat traffic that will occur with the opening of the new boat ramp will help maintain a passable channel through the shoaling area,” he said.

Fire company use

Last year, Little Creek Fire Chief Michael Scott Bundek noted that he saw an added opportunity for the town’s fire department when the boat launch was first proposed. In 2013, the fire station received a port security grant to purchase a new 32-foot fire rescue boat to respond to emergencies in the Delaware Bay.

“The reason we got the grant was that there were no fire rescue capabilities for all the shipping traffic that goes up and down the coast,” he said last year. “Several fire companies received boats through that program. Since it’s just a bit too long to be trailered regularly, it sits docked at the end of Port Mahon, but with the new boat launch and pier, it could be docked much closer to town.”

Chief Bundek said that the road leading to the large boat launch at the end of Port Mahon has been neglected for many years and it floods often, which can make rapid response difficult. Also, the creek is more insulated from the high winds Port Mahon often sees opening directly onto the bay.

The fire station also has a 22-foot rescue boat and an 18-foot pond boat, both of which they keep trailers at the fire station. Chief Bundek said that in an average year, there are about 25 water/fire emergencies in the Delaware Bay.

“Our response area is all the way from Collins Beach down to the Murderkill River,” he said. “We’ll respond to people taking on water, boat accidents, fires on board, medical emergencies out on the water or even disabled boats if there are poor weather conditions and it becomes an emergency.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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