Replenishment projects set for Rehoboth, Dewey beaches

REHOBOTH BEACH — The nor’easter that churned off the East Coast last week showed just how vulnerable Delaware’s beaches can be, as several coastal communities faced flooding conditions as ocean waters breached sand dunes.

That’s why Dewey Beach Town Manager Scott Koenig said the upcoming beach replenishment projects at both Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach are so vital in helping preserve the valuable tourism market along Delaware’s coastlines.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District recently awarded a contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company LLC of Oak Brook, Illinois, for $7.21 million to conduct periodic nourishment of the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach Coastal Storm Risk Management project.

The project is a joint effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Beach replenishment work in Rehoboth Beach is scheduled to begin over the next couple of weeks while Dewey Beach is expected to begin receiving its replenishment around mid-November.

While Mr. Koenig said spending money on Delaware’s beaches makes sense, he can understand why many people frown upon such projects.

“Unless you are involved with the beach replenishment process or own property near the beach, you are likely not aware of the value of the associated replenishment activities,” Mr. Koenig said. “The Delaware beaches account for tens of millions of dollars in economic value to our state and the surrounding communities. It is fair for some to complain; however, the return on this investment is very high to our state.”

According to “The Value of Tourism” report in 2017, beaches made up 19 percent of the visitor activity to Delaware, trailing dining (26 percent) and shopping (24 percent). The report also said the tourism industry accounted for 18,350 jobs in Sussex County, which was 16.3 percent of the jobs in the county.

“Beach replenishment is absolutely critical to the long-term viability of our community,” said Mr. Koenig. “Not only does replenishment maintain an expansive and safe beach area, it also protects the dunes and the adjacent oceanfront properties from major storms. Having a healthy and welcoming beach increases property values all over our community and the adjacent areas.”

The upcoming projects call for dredging 409,000 cubic yards of sand — 190,000 in Rehoboth and 219,000 in Dewey — to be pumped from an offshore borrow site. The sand will be pumped through a series of pipes and placed on the beaches.

The sand is then built into an engineered dune and berm template, which is designed to reduce damages from coastal storm events such as the one last week.

U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said it’s important to protect the state’s coastline.

“We’ve learned that by proactively building up our dunes and beaches, they can stand up and protect our homes, businesses, schools and infrastructure from the nastiest storms,” said Sen. Carper. “Delaware’s 21 miles of oceanfront are more than just sand and surf – they generate more than $6.9 billion in coastal tourism annually and 10 percent of Delaware’s workforce.

“We fought hard for this funding because beach replenishment protects not only our community but our economy as well.”

Beach replenishment is a 50-year program, typically running on a three-year cycle, and is currently about halfway to completion. The cost is shared between the federal (65 percent of the funding) and state (35 percent) governments.

The upcoming project follows beach nourishments/repairs that have taken place in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2016. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock has performed the last two beach replenishments.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District said that during this year’s beach replenishment effort, dunes and associated beach access points will be repaired in certain areas; however, most of the work includes widening the beach between the toe of the dune and the water line.

In Rehoboth Beach, sand will be placed on the beach in the northern portion of the community (between the city tennis courts area on North Surf Road south to the bandstand area). In Dewey Beach, sand will be placed on the beach between Swedes Street south to Beach Avenue.

Depending on the condition of the beaches based on surveys, the Army Corps could exercise contract options to place additional sand as part of the project (an additional 100,000 cubic yards).

There are many that believe beach replenishment is futile, including geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and J. Andrew G. Cooper, who co-wrote “The Last Beach.”

“The biggest threat to the future of the world’s beaches is posed by the coastal engineering profession,” Mr. Pilkey and Mr. Cooper wrote. “Engineers attempt to hold shorelines despite the fact that flexibility is essential to the survival of beaches.”

Their book also says, “A natural beach never needs the protection from forces of nature; it is perfectly adapted to cope with anything thrown at it.”

However, Gov. John Carney believes it’s worth the effort to do whatever is necessary to protect Delaware’s beaches.

“Replenishing our beaches helps drive our economy by keeping our coastline accessible and accommodating for Delawareans and visitors,” Gov. Carney said. “Delaware also is the lowest-lying state in the U.S., and beach replenishment helps us prepare for extreme weather events, sea level rise and other effects of climate change.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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