DE Delegation Urges Expedience of Prime Hook Plan

Photo from U.S. Fish & Wildlife of Prime Hook Unit II dune breach, October 2010.

On Tuesday, March 20 the Delaware Congressional Delegation,  United States Senators Tom Carper, Chris Coons and Congressman John Carney, sent a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar to urge his department to conclude the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The completion date for the CCP was originally 2007.

Since the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge was federally mandated six years ago, the Refuge has seen drastic environmental changes and political challenges for state and local officials. Flooding of the Prime Hook area has left many residents fearful about the future of their houses and properties. Environmentalists also argue that the severity of recent storms has diminished the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At a meeting held on January 20, 2012 at the Carlisle Fire Hall in Milford, state, local and federal officials along with local residents heard from Michael Stroeh, manager of the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, as he provided a briefing on the challenges to the current marsh system and how the ecology and hydrology of the area has contributed to the breaches at Fowlers Beach and flooding of Prime Hook Road.

Mr. Stroeh explained the refuge’s current comprehensive planning process will not only provide a roadmap for restoring the marsh to a more balanced and sustainable state, but will also provide the needed federal environmental clearance for any substantial work to occur in the refuge, including any potential action on the breaches.

In the letter to Mr. Salazar, the Delaware Congressional Delegation wrote “Prime Hook has undergone significant changes to its diverse and ecologically valuable fresh and saltwater impoundments. Time is of the essence in moving forward with a plan for this Refuge.”

U.S Fish & Wildlife Services officials state that over the past 85 years, about 500 feet of beach front at Prime Hook has been lost. In recent history the Prime Hook area has seen the disastrous effects of Hurricane Ernesto in 2006 and the repeated Nor’easter storms in 2009 and 2010 that added to this land erosion by opening up breaches in the dunes. Restoration has been attempted several times including the dune rebuild in 2011 which was destroyed just weeks later as the restored sand was washed away. This failed attempt has added to the evidence that no simple, quick solution will remedy the growing complications in the Prime Hook area.

According to Project Leader Michael Stroeh, the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is scheduled to be completed in May. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services will host six public meetings alongside the release of the plan to educate and engage the public about the future of the refuge. In the plan several alternatives for the future of the refuge will be discussed with one preferred route highlighted as the direction in which U.S. Wildlife officials will begin to pursue.

“The plan is not the fix but it is the first step in environmental procedures we have to follow to find a solution,” stated Mr. Stroeh. “The public review process is there for good reason. We will be taking questions and thoughts from the public on how to move forward.”