Washington, DC — A Delaware state agency sent its bulldozers to work on dunes inside a federal national wildlife refuge without required permits in apparent violation of both state and federal laws, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Pursuant to an earlier PEER complaint, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already investigating potential criminal violations of the wetland provisions of the Clean Water Act by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) for the same dunes work.
On May 3, 2010, DNREC sent two state bulldozers onto wetlands within the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to scrape sand from dunes. The stated reason for the work was to repair “breaches” created by recent storms in the dunes north of Prime Hook Beach in Sussex County. Currently, the area is experiencing flooding from direct tidal flow out of Delaware Bay via several new small inlets (or breaches) into back-barrier wetland areas.
As seen on local TV footage, the work took place directly beneath an active osprey nest with a pair of adult osprey and young. The beach scraping also started during peak spawning of horseshoe crabs and shorebird nesting.
In addition to violations of the Federal Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, the PEER complaint asks DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara to review whether his agency violated the very laws it is supposed to be upholding, including the state Subaqueous Lands Act and the Beach Preservation Act. In addition, the DNREC work appeared to start without required public notices.
Ironically in January 2010, DNREC denied a permit to the Prime Hook Beach Organization, Inc. for sand scraping to rebuild dunes – work similar to what DNREC is now doing without a permit. In the Secretary’s Order denying the permit to the homeowners, Mr. O’Mara stated that “merely shifting sand from one location to another on the same beach” does little to provide long-term protection from erosion.
“We are dumbfounded that the state agency which is supposed to protect natural resources is behind the bulldozers,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that besides the harmful effects on wildlife the project negatively impacts beach and wetland habitats which are dependent on storm surge breach and overwash sand formations to adjust to climate change and sea-level rise. “DNREC cannot hold back the sands of change that are transforming Delaware’s beaches and dunes.”
Coincidentally or not, this is the same area where one year ago, the state Department of Transportation engaged in illegal ditching, draining and building culverts on Fowler Beach and Prime Hook Beach Roads near property owned by State Representative V. George Carey, former chair of the Natural Resources Committee.
“Lightning does strikes twice in the same place unless there is an outside cause,” Ruch added. “Whatever mistakes DNREC has made, we hope that they were not driven by pork barrel politics.”