On Wednesday, November 13 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a public meeting at the Milford Public Library to discuss their plan for marsh restoration at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Officials from Atkins-Global, a management group that conducted studies over the last several years of several possibilities and alternatives to the marsh restoration, presented their data analysis and recommendations for the future of the Wildlife Refuge.
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge was significantly damaged in recent years by coastal storms, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Service received $20 million in federal funding from the Department of Interior in May to repair beach and dune breaches at the refuge following the storm. On October 24, the Refuge received an additional $19.8 million to build upon the dune repairs by restoring a robust marsh environment at Prime Hook that will better withstand the tests of time, future storms and a changing environment.
The challenges to the ecosystem at Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge have been difficult as the area has seen drastic environmental changes and political challenges for over seven years. 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.
This October Prime Hook officials received the peer-review information from Atikns-Global and made a decision on how the wildlife refuge will proceed with the design of the dune and breach repair project. After looking at salinity, circulation and restoration alternatives, they determined that the best course of action forward will be to completely fill the breach and create a dune crest of approximately six feet above mean sea level.
After that work is complete, Prime Hook officials will use the $19.8 million in additional Sandy funding to proceed with marsh restoration behind the repaired dune line. This project will include building up the elevation of the marshes, removing water control structures and creating channels in the marsh to manage water flow. According to Prime Hook officials, after the foundational work is complete, marsh grasses will be planted to make the system more stable and sustainable.
“The primary agenda and objective of the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge will be to restore, to the best of our ability, a habitat close to what we had before Hurricane Sandy,” commented Al Rizzo, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Project Leader . “All forty-million dollars that we received from the federal government will go to fixing the breach.” According Mr. Rizzo, filling in the breaches will require approximately 800,000 yards of material as less than 500,000 yards of material will be used for marsh restoration. The project will include the creation of 1,200 to 1,800 acres of new marsh.
In the coming months, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge officials will work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a design for the dune repair and full marsh restoration. During this period of time, the Service will fulfill the requirements of environmental review for the project under the National Environmental Policy Act. According to Mr. Riizzo, the target date to begin repairing the breaches is late Fall 2014.