Sen. Tom Carper announced the Delaware coast from Fenwick Island to Bethany Beach would be undergoing emergency beach nourishment at no cost to the state after a series of storms hit the Delaware beaches in 2015. Produced by Gray Hughes
During a time when funding is uncertain for many federal programs involving climate change and the environment, three towns along the coast of Delaware received reassuring news Monday.
Standing at the Bethany Beach Bandstand, Sen. Tom Carper announced the Delaware coast from Fenwick Island to Bethany Beach would be undergoing emergency beach nourishment at no cost to the state after a series of storms hit the Delaware beaches in 2015.
"If you go back to late 2015, we had a storm, Joaquin, and it came through here and did some damage, and then it was a one-two punch," Carper said. "Jonas came after that, and it just about did us in. All the work that the Army Corps had done to build up the beach and the dunes to protect us was pretty much wiped out."
Beach replenishment is a process of pumping sand up from the ocean floor and back under the feet of tourists and locals, building up dunes to protect from when storms hit the coastline. The dunes and widened beach serve as a barrier between the coastal towns and tourism industry from the powerful waves that surge in passing storms.
The Delaware congressional delegation met with Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army overseeing the Army Corps of Engineers, in 2016 to discuss the possibility of repairing the damaged Delaware beaches, Carper said.
However, Darcy said she was unsure of what the Army Corps of Engineers could do because of lack of funding. Carper then met with her for a lunch in December, where she informed Carper the project could go forward.
The most recent beach nourishment at the southern Delaware beaches came in 2013 after Superstorm Sandy hit the coast in October 2012.
Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach received a round of $11.2 million beach nourishment this past winter, while Ocean City last underwent replenishment in 2013. The Maryland town is scheduled to undergo another round during the fall of 2017, costing $4.6 million.
The project will be completely funded by federal dollars, said Nathan Barcomb, the deputy district engineer for programs and project management for the Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia, because it falls under Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies program, enabling the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damage caused by severe storms completely with federal funds.
The 2013 projects also fell under the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies Program.
In other instances of beach replenishment, the corps pays 65 percent of the project cost, while the state is on the hook for the remaining price tag.
The 2017 project is expected to cost between $15 to $22 million, he added.
"With the senator’s help, we got the funding about a month ago and we are going through the design process now in the Philadelphia District," he said. "We will advertise this summer for contracts, contracts should be awarded in the fall, and we should be doing the work in the fall, winter and into next spring. The beaches should be repaired by this time next year."
But many beach advocates are wary of future projects federally funded to protect beach towns. The Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for beach replenishment, faces a $1 billion cut in 2018 in President Donald Trump's budget. There are also other cuts to programs that manage and protect the coastlines on Delmarva.
Derek Brockbank, the executive director for the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, said it is unclear what part of the Army Corps of Engineers would have its budget cut because the budget unveiled was the "skinny budget," meaning each line item is not broken down. But he did say the funding for beach nourishment could be among the reductions.
Cuts the budget did describe to other agencies including $250 million worth of reductions to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs — such as water quality testing — managed by the Sea Grant program, whose funding is being proposed for complete elimination.
Funding would then fall to the states and state agencies such as DNREC, leaving less money available for beach nourishment, Brockbank said.
"It would be particularly tough for small states such as Delaware who would be unable to take on some of those costs, and you would see cut back to these programs," he said. "And then, what we don’t know what will be coming out of beach nourishment funding, but the funding could be under threat."
Tony Pratt, the administrator for shoreline and waterway management for DNREC, said Bethany Beach, South Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island projects — along with other beach nourishment projects — are needed because beach nourishment protects infrastructure on the mainland.
"This original project, the beach and dune, was built to protect the infrastructure, the boardwalk, the buildings and the jobs that are associated with these restaurants, stores and retail outlets that are located here," he said. "So the protection of this beach town is the reason why this project exists."
Beach nourishment is supposed to take place every three years, Pratt said, but it has been nearly four and a half since Bethany Beach, South Bethany Beach and Fenwick received nourishment.
It's time for beach nourishment to be done in these towns, he said.
"It's desperately needed to rebuild the beach and dunes to provide protection during storms," he added.
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