Washington, DC — A plan to scrape sand from beaches on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in order to rebuild dunes shielding private beach homes has a new critic – the state agency that is supposed to carry it out, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) now admits to a number of reservations about the project that it is co-sponsoring, including that there is not enough sand on the refuge beaches to close the breaches that storms have opened in the dunes.
In an August 25, 2010 letter commenting .on the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS operates the refuge) Draft Environmental Assessment for the project, DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara voices support for another option than the “Preferred Alternative” put forward by FWS. Instead of scraping sand from refuge beaches, DNREC suggests importing sand from elsewhere, provided that DNREC does not have to pay for it. Besides the insufficient sand on “sand starved” refuge beaches, DNREC says –
- The project may be counterproductive: “In the long run allowing the system to self-adjust may enable the existing wetlands to better keep up with sea level rise”;
- “The preferred approach is, admittedly, a short-term solution that may not survive the next Nor’easter”; and
- Damage to habitat for shorebirds, beach-nesting birds and dune plants may be greater than the FWS assessment estimates.
“When even your partner starts getting cold feet, it is time to step back and take a hard look at what you are doing,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that back in May DNREC sent two state bulldozers onto Prime Hook Refuge wetlands to scrape sand but were turned back and since seem to have undergone a change of heart. That incident is still under investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “If there is not enough sand, what is the point of spending a moment more on this project?”
Other practical barriers also loom, including a DNREC concern that “the time and cost estimates for this approach is significantly underestimated.” DNREC states that the project “should be completed between October 1 and October 22” to avoid interfering with duck hunting. But, to date, FWS does not have a single state or federal permit needed to break ground. In addition, DNREC wants a new “memorandum of understanding” detailing “obligations and expectations…including funding limitations” on the state role.
“With friends like DNREC, the Fish & Wildlife Service does not want for critics,” said PEER Counsel Christine Erickson who is preparing for litigation in the event the Prime Hook dunes project proceeds further. “The Prime Hooks dune project is an unworkable, harmful, misguided and short-sighted political fix to a suite of resource management issues propelled by rising sea levels."