Kent, Sussex coastal communities primed for beach protections

Erosion at Bowers Beach. (File photo)

DOVER — Several coastal communities in Kent and Sussex counties along the Delaware Bay shoreline took one step closer to receiving added protections from damages caused by erosion, wave attack and inundation.

Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) commanding general and the 54th U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, signed the Chief’s Report for the “Delaware Beneficial Use of Dredged Material for the Delaware River Feasibility Study” — a key milestone for the proposed project.

Last week’s signing of the report advances the project to Congress for authorization.

The recommended plan calls for the dredged material from the bay to be used to construct a dune and berm system at Bowers Beach, South Bowers Beach, Slaughter Beach, Prime Hook Beach and Lewes Beach while a berm system would be constructed at Pickering Beach and Kitts Hummock.

Initial construction of the project would be implemented in phases depending on funding and future dredging requirements. After initial construction, the sites would be eligible for periodic nourishment every six years.

“I want to thank our study team and the state of Delaware for their continued partnership on this important study and our other efforts across the state,” said Lt. Col. David Park, commander of the USACE’s Philadelphia District. “This report allows us to move forward to the next phase of the project.”

The USACE study was developed in response to storm damages along the Delaware Bay shoreline over recent years.

The proposed project would use sand dredged from the bay to construct dunes and berms to reduce the risk of coastal storm damages to infrastructure.

The study, funded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, was completed in partnership with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“The chief’s report identifies an additional potential resource for the state to utilize for replenishment projects along the coast,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “We use methods such as truck-fill or near-shore dredge sources that are currently the most economical ways to address the challenges we are facing from climate change.

“If funded by Congress, this will give us another tool to consider if state resources are available.”

The USACE Philadelphia District routinely dredges the federal shipping channel of the Delaware River and Bay to enable maritime commerce. In the future, USACE anticipates dredging around 930,000 cubic yards of sand from the Delaware Bay every two years.

The upcoming dredging project comes following the completion of the final section of the Delaware River and Bay channel deepening project that took place between 2010 and 2019. The 40-foot depth of the river was dredged to 45-feet over a span more than 102.5 miles on sections of bay and river that borders Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Congress initially approved the project in 1992.

That project was initially supposed to only take five years to complete.

“(Hurricane) Sandy complicated things,” said Ed Voigt, chief of public and legal affairs for the USACE Philadelphia District. “Half a billion in contracts went to the Delaware and New Jersey shorelines limiting what we had available for the river. It (the deepening) was designed to be done in five years but lack of funding has really limiting the time we could dredge.”

The next step for the current dredging project will be the approval of the Chief’s Report by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), after which it will be sent to Congress for authorization. Once authorized and funded, the project would move forward through planning, engineering, design and, eventually, construction.

Bowers Beach, Pickering Beach and Kitts Hummock were the sites of beach replenishment projects by The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Shoreline and Waterway Management Section, within the Division of Watershed Stewardship, last year.

Those replenishments consisted of truck-hauled fill projects managed by DNREC. Bayshore beaches in the three downstate communities were chosen for winter replenishment after experiencing significant loss of sand in 2019 year due to erosion from Delaware Bay tides and waves.

Those replenishment projects were funded in part by $300,000 in Community Transportation Funding provided by Delaware legislators Sen. Colin Bonini and Rep. Andria Bennett and Charles Postles, each of whom directed $100,000 in CTF money for the replenishment projects.

Past beach and dune repair work in the three communities includes similar truck-hauled beach fill projects in Bowers Beach in 2009, 2012 and 2018; Kitts Hummock in 2010, 2012 and 2014; and Pickering Beach was last replenished in 2001 using a hydraulic dredge.

Beach fill projects introduce clean sand into the shoreline system to offset the effects of erosion.

Gov. John Carney said the state needs to take the lead when it comes to the “effects of climate change” which have a major impact on Delaware’s popular coastline.

“We are the lowest-lying state in the country, and our sea level is rising at twice the global average,” Gov. Carney said. “This is a real threat that we need to confront together, and it’s not just about the environmental impact in our state.

“Any changes in weather patterns jeopardize Delaware’s $8 billion agricultural industry and our $3.4 billion tourism economy. For the sake of our economy and our environment, it’s crucial we continue to address climate change with urgency.”