Prime Hook beach restoration complete

PRIME HOOK — It was slightly chilly and quite windy, but a walk on the beach was never more satisfying on Friday afternoon.

Nearly four years after Superstorm Sandy washed away much of the coastal Fowler Beach sand at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, the beach was pronounced better than ever thanks to a multi-faceted restoration project involving state and federal resources.

About 75 attendees followed project manager Bart Wilson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a 90-minute tour extolling the virtues of battling sea level rise on the 4,000 acre spread.

With $38 million in federal funding, the project rebuilt sand dunes and marsh areas overwhelmed by Sandy, which forced wildlife from the area as well.

Officials called it the largest restoration project ever on the East Coast, and nobody could recall a bigger one anywhere else either.

Touring the completed Fowler Beach restoration project Friday are, from left, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Al Rizzo, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Wendi Weber. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Touring the completed Fowler Beach restoration project Friday are, from left, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Al Rizzo, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Wendi Weber. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Former DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara — who was in Delaware when the response to Sandy began — was positively exuberant, describing it as “one of the most successful restoration projects in United States history.”

With just as much passion, Mr. O’Mara lauded U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., — standing nearby — for championing the need for restoration in Congress.

Fowler Beach restoration project manager Bart Wilson, right, explains how the restoration was completed. From left are Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Al Rizzo. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Fowler Beach restoration project manager Bart Wilson, right, explains how the restoration was completed. From left are Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Al Rizzo. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she’d only visited Prime Hook twice, both after the restoration was underway. She couldn’t quite fathom just how much the landscape had changed without the “before and after” memory to pull from.

“Not only is this about the habitat and resilience, it’s also a classroom for young people to learn what can happen if we let Mother Nature” take its course, Secretary Jewell said.

With nine-foot high dunes spread widely at a low angle across the beach, incoming waves roll onto the shore and dissipate before they can overwhelming the inland area.

The project closed four large shoreline breaches, restoring 8,900 linear feet of beach with 1.41 million cubic yards of sand used. The 60-acre marsh behind the dunes cover up to 600 feet into the back barrier, highlighted by Switchgrass covering two-thirds of the surface and Spartina grasses for about a third.

Wildlife has returned to the area quicker than expected, highlighted by spawning Horseshoe Crabs.

Mr. Wilson said the project was about “trying to restore the habitat but not disturb the resources in the Delaware Bay.” A healthy marsh with vegetation thwarts sea level rise, he said.

The view of the completed Fowler Beach restoration on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The view of the completed Fowler Beach restoration on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.