Dept of Interior Allocates 19.8 Million To Prime Hook Refuge

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On Thursday, October 24 United States Senator Tom Carper and United States Representative John Carney of Delaware announced $19.8 million in federal funding to mitigate future storm damage and restore the marsh system at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge that has been significantly damaged in recent years by coastal storms, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Part of a larger investment through the Department of Interior, which allocated $162 million in 45 restoration and research projects to Atlantic Coast communities to protect against future storms, the $19.8 million funding will be used towards restoring marshes, wetlands and beaches, rebuilding shorelines, and researching the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surge impacts.

“Nearly one year ago, when Superstorm Sandy made landfall in Delaware, it tore through our communities, damaging roads, bridges, homes and businesses and compromising our protective beaches and dunes,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper in a press release sent out on Thursday, October 24. “…I’m so pleased to hear this funding will be used to support this strategy – working to prevent future damage and protect lives from the havoc mother nature brings our way, as well saving taxpayers money in the long run.”

This development marks a second benchmark towards resolving a challenge that has been difficult on local families as well as the ecosystem at Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge for over seven years; the first being a $20 million investment from the Department of Interior in emergency Hurricane Sandy disaster relief in May of 2013 to address dune breaches. In 2006 the dune system that protects the area of Fowler Beach Road was originally breached during Hurricane Etnesto. Since then, repeated Nor’easter storms in 2009 and 2010 added to this land erosion by opening up breaches in several areas of the dunes. Again in 2012 the main breach was deepened and widened by Hurricane Sandy from a diameter of about 300 feet to approximately 1,500 feet wide.

Over the years Prime Hook National Wildlife 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. 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. After this failure occurred, officials stated that a Comprehensive Plan must be completed to move forward with any restoration or recovery process. The Comprehensive Plan (CCP) was completed in December 2012 after local and national legislators urged Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar to conclude the CCP for the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

The most recent investment in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge will be allocated from appropriations to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and is in addition to $20 million allocated in May to address dune breaches. The restoration will be done in accordance with the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

State Senator Gary Simpson, who represents Delaware communities including the Prime Hook area, released a statement last week commending the efforts of the Department of Interior to correct the breaches and restore the marsh.

“It is just exciting news to know that now we have a little cushion. Not only can we fix the breaches, but we can start the restoration of the marsh,” stated Senator Simpson. “That really is all one system behind the houses at Slaughter Beach, Broadkill Beach, and Prime Hook Beach, so we think it will alleviate a lot of the flooding problems that have affected those communities for the last four or five years.”

Officials from Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge say that the start of the marsh restoration is still months away. They are currently in the planning stages and collecting data from the hydraulic studies to determine what the marsh will do once it is restored. In addition to the investment in the Prime Hook refuge, Delaware will also receive funding for assessments, modeling, coastal barrier mapping, and other projects to better inform federal, state, and local decision makers on the tools they need to improve resiliency and prepare for future storms.