Storm surge ups beach erosion fears

PICKERING BEACH — Gwen North has lived on her shrinking backyard beach on the Delaware Bay for 20 years now.

She’s worried that the recent storm surge has quickened the erosion that’s creeping ever closer to her home.

“People come here from all over the world and when they arrive they can’t believe a place like this still exists, but I’m afraid it won’t be that way for much longer if we don’t get some help,” Ms. North said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ms. North and a group of 35 or so residents, elected officials, DNREC staff, reporters and Gov. John Carney walked along the beach and shared some frank opinions.

Nearly an hour into the gathering, the governor was still in deep conversation while walking northward just a few steps from the water lapping into the shoreline.

Everyone agreed that something must be done to, at the very least, slow the effects of rising water and smaller land mass exacerbated by last weekend’s high winds, rain and strong wave energy.

The governor pointed to DNREC’s ongoing formation of a truck fill project that would dump sand to create dunes and fences to hold back the arriving water from the bay. Officials said a concept design was about 35 percent completed and no timeline or funding source established.

“The most important thing for me right now is that this is your house, and your house and your house,” the governor said.

The reality is that federal funding plays a significant part of replenishing beaches in the long term, and guarantees are currently available to solve the recent problems.

Erosion at Bowers Beach.

Since the weekend, Pickering Beach residents faced two high tides where water flowed over roadways and up to houses already on stilts. Dr. Jerry Lindquist and his wife Kathy move to eastern Kent County from California just a month ago and their driveway and stairs were already ruined and damage done to the concrete slab stabilizing the house.

“I just retired and this is another renovation project,” he said. “I have no regrets about moving here and knew it might happen, but I’ve only been here a month.”

Fortunately, Mr. Lindquist said, “The blessing has been hooking up with these neighbors that have stepped up and helped any way they can.”

Freshman Cara Parker hadn’t been able to attend Caesar Rodney High since last Friday after rising waters closed the Pickering Beach Road from her home to Del. 9.

“My friends have been checking in with me constantly checking to see if I’m OK,” she said. “I told them I was fine but I just couldn’t leave.”

Cara’s father Mike said he’s been coming to the beach since childhood and he’s never seen the surge that came on Saturday through early Monday.

“It was a rush of water and there was nothing to retain it, stop it or hold it back,” he said.

Yard like a pond

Eventually, Mr. Parker said his yard was more like a pond “covered with water, sand mosquitoes and fish.”

At one point, 3 1/2 feet high sand drifts covered the road, he said.

Mr. Parker believes “there has to be a dune or jetty put in, something to stop the water.”

While Mr. Parker said he moved to Pickering Beach for “simple, quiet living, it hasn’t been that way lately.”

His wife Jessica was encouraged by the governor’s appearance, among others.

“I’m just glad they’re here to see it,” she said. “Hopefully we can get something done and our questions will get some answers.”

DNREC Environmental Program Manager Mike Powell said early in the day that Hurricane Florence’s track “keeps looking more and more favorable to us.

“The latest information is that we may not see high winds from it at all, which could cause the high wave event that occurred last weekend.”

That information came from the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center, which DNREC stayed in touch with daily, Mr. Powell said.

In the past few days, DNREC dropped water levels six to 12 inches with gates at the ponds it controls and controlling dams.

“It might not sound like a lot but when you do that you create a large reservoir if needed,” he said.

At state controlled beach areas, sand was added to create a dune system designed to provide an added barrier. Mr. Powell said annual spring tides exacerbated last weekend’s wind and wave height conditions that came with rain.

“There was an extended period of flooding in bayfront communities,” he said.

The conditions ahead

Acknowledging the cliche’ Mr. Powell took the realistic mindset of “Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst” conditions ahead.

On Wednesday, Mr. Powell said “The water levels have gone down at the beaches along with the tidal flooding since Monday.”

Dewey Beach Patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman said at high tide his community “has no usable beachfront. At high tides the last three to four days the water has been up to the toe of the dune line and up the slope. This is the time for beachcombing if you’re OK with walking in ankle deep water.”

Once winds stay consistently below 15 mph and low wave energy returns “the sand will migrate back,” Mr. Fritchman said.

“The beach goes through this frequently especially with the potential of hurricanes, but right now the beaches here and at many other spots are mostly gone.”

Mr. Fritchman said staff spent time storing away ATVs and medical units, cleaning items from the beach and collecting sandbags, in addition to huddling together for planning meetings.

According to Milford City Manager Eric Norenberg, “At the peak of the storm, the Kent County pump station was at capacity and that backed up our Washington Street pump station to capacity as well. Our wastewater system in the downtown area was flooded leading to some pump failures.

“This did cause some sewage to back up into stormwater mains near Denny Row for a short time. Pumps were manually restarted by our Public Works staff.”

Mr. Norenberg said, “I don’t think anyone was expecting the amount of rain that came in a short period this afternoon (on Tuesday). (Tuesday’s)rain could not be absorbed by very saturated earth following the rains this past weekend.

“Yesterday, we began preparations for Florence and that included clearing catch basins and storm drains to facilitate flow.”

 

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