Dunes Debacle in Delaware
Project Scraping Refuge to Protect Private Beach Homes Fails in 4 Days
Washington, DC — A newly completed project scraping sand from beaches on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to rebuild dunes shielding private beach homes has already imploded just days after completion, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). On October 6, 2011, bulldozers finished piling sand across 4,000-foot stretch of coastline. Today there are already four breaches, one nearly 200 feet long, as Delaware Bay has repeatedly punctured the new barrier.
“After only four days, the first full moon high tide over-washed this project–it didn’t even take a storm to knock it out,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who contended the project was misguided and counterproductive. “Astoundingly, it appears that both the state and federal experts knew that there was not enough sand on the beaches but proceeded anyway.”
The long-contested project involved Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) coming onto the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge beaches to move the federal sand to fill in holes punched in the dune-line by past storms. Most of the sand was put onto private property supposedly to shield around 200 homes from further incursion by the tides of Delaware Bay.
More than a year earlier, DNREC experts had raised a red flag that there was not enough sand on the refuge beaches to complete the project. The agency backed off those concerns, however, under intense local political pressure. Then this past summer, Hurricane Irene removed as much as 80 percent of the sand needed for the project, according to Tony Pratt, the DNREC official responsible for the project, who said:
“It’s less than ideal, but we are giving it our best try. We will get all of the sand we can possibly get under the conditions of the permit and cross our fingers to see what nature brings.”
Nature did not wait for even a week before wiping out the project. Now, there is no sand available for any purpose. Neither DNREC nor the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge, has announced what, if anything, it plans to do as the dune-line disappears.
PEER and Delaware Audubon tried to stop the project and ultimately brought a federal lawsuit charging that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires full environmental review of all significant federal actions, and the Refuge Improvement Act, which requires that projects on refuge lands serve refuge purposes. But in mid-September a federal magistrate ruled against the groups, opining that “deference” was owed to the “sound professional judgment” of refuge managers and that the project’s environmental assessment was not so questionable as to be “arbitrary and capricious.”
“The magistrate ruled that the project could proceed, but Mother Nature proved far more eloquently than our legal briefs that this project would not accomplish its intended purpose,” Douglass added. “Besides being a colossally bad idea, the project sets a horrible precedent of damaging federal wildlife refuges to further private interests.”
PEER is seeking DNREC records detailing how much taxpayer money has been wasted and whether top state officials knew the project was doomed to failure before starting the bulldozers.