Cape region visitors will find wider beaches; replenishment work underway

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

Beach replenishment work is underway at Bethany Beach.

The Bethany Beach work is the first part of a three-phase project that will replenish Delaware beaches from  Rehoboth Beach to the Maryland border before Memorial Day weekend.

Work will be done first in Bethany and South Bethany Beaches. They will receive  387,000 cubic yards of sand as part of  the $2 2.7 million project intended to bring the beaches back to their appearance before storms in late 2009.

As beach replenishment work goes, this is a relatively modest project. There will also be no additional work to reshape or increase the size of the dune line. “It is smaller than beach replenishment work in the past,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Stephen Rochette.

The work is funded under the flood control and coastal emergency program and is in response to coastal storms  in  late 2009 that caused significant erosion along Delaware’s beaches.

Those storms chewed chunks from the beaches and left them vulnerable to other nor’easters or hurricanes. This project is intended to restore the beaches to their size before those coastal storms, Rochette said.

The cost will be borne entirely by the federal government with Delaware not being required to provide any matching monies.

“We’re pleased to announce that Delaware’s coastline continues to receive the attention it deserves,” said Senator Tom Carper, then Senator Ted Kaufman and then Congressman Mike Castle last September, after learning of additional federal funding being made available.  “Delaware’s treasured beaches are essential to the state’s economy. Not only will this funding help repair the damage that was done, it will also allow us to reintroduce coastal barriers to protect our beaches before the inevitable storm strikes again.”

After work is done in Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach, the dredge will begin work to pump sand on to Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches, which will receive 261,000 cubic yards of sand.

In beach replenishment, sand is pumped from offshore sites on to the beach. It can be a tricky process because not just any sand will do. It can’t be too coarse or muddy and it can’t be too fine because it will blow away easily.

Location of  the dredge site  is also crucial, especially since a previous project  inadvertently  pumped a few items of unexploded World War II era ordnance on to the beaches.

After pumping at Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, the dredging and replenishment work will move to Fenwick Island.

Rochette said the plan is to be done before the Memorial Day weekend begins and the summer tourist season kicks into overdrive.

While beach size ebbs and flows with changes in season and the number of coastal storms, replenishment has become standard practice because of the economic importance of the beaches.

Carper, Castle and Kaufman said last fall that there are $320 in tax revenue created for every dollar spent by the federal government on beach replenishment work. But there are still some who argue that it’s simply a waste of money to pump sand on to the beach. They say that sea level rise will ultimately mean beach replenishment is a futile effort.

Instead, a policy of “strategic retreat” from beach areas is favored by some.

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