Public Comment Still Wanted For Prime Hook Refuge Plan

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

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.

Released early last month, the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a document that has been nearly eight years in the making and spans more than 1,100 pages. Required by federal law, the document will guide all aspects of managing the 10,133 acre refuge for 15 years after its adoption.

The flooding is blamed largely on breaches in the protective sand dunes at Fowlers Beach, an area that is within the borders of the refuge and which is under the control of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Created by severe storms in 2009, the breaches have widened through tidal action, storms, and erosion of the shoreline.

Water from the Delaware Bay is pushing through the gaps, often overtopping Prime Hook Road, which provides the only public access to approximately about 200 homes at Prime Hook Beach. Homeowners in Slaughter Beach and Broadkill Beach are facing their own threats from decisions being made to benefit refuge habitat.

The influx of saltwater is also causing problems. Four farms in the area have collectively lost more than 100 acres of agricultural land due to saltwater intrusion, which is also threatening to contaminate wells providing freshwater for local homeowners and crops.

Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge contains three options: The first option would maintain the status quo, continuing current management practices, the second option would manage the refuge to mimic natural processes and the final option would essentially return the refuge to the way it was managed early in the last decade, maintaining artificial freshwater impoundments behind a restored protective dune line.The agency could select any of the three options or create a hybrid plan by combining aspects from the competing proposals.

Officials at U.S. Wildlife will be accepting written comments to the plan through Monday, August 6 by email, mail and fax. Individuals wanting to voice their opinions can direct their comments to Thomas Bonetti, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035; by email at northeastplanning@fsw.gov or fax to 413-253-8468.