Bayshore restoration efforts at the Mispillion Harbor are one of 54 projects along the Atlantic coast to recently receive funding from the U.S. Department of Interior through Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency funds. Of the total $102.7 million released, $6.9 million was awarded to three Delaware projects aimed at restoring wetland and beach habitats and preparing for future coastal storms.
Since Hurricane Sandy slammed the Atlantic coast in fall 2012, local communities like Slaughter Beach have been petitioning for shoreline restoration and funds to protect their vulnerable, flooding beaches.
The aftermath of coastal storms like Sandy, and even less harsh storm systems, augmented by rising sea levels, have been threatening the stability of habitats along the Delaware Bay.
But a recent influx of federal funding is expected to repair damages and better prepare those communities for the impact of future storms.
On Friday, Colin O’Mara made his last major project announcement as the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary alongside Delaware’s full congressional delegation and the heads of national wildlife organizations to announce $6.9 million in funding to restore Delaware Bay shores.
“Something is going on here and we need to respond to it,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said during the event at the DuPont Nature Center on Friday.
Carper then invited the audience to chime in on the four “R’s” needed to address saving the shores and habitats along the Delaware Bay: Resilience, restoration, recovery and return on investment.
With the funding, 15,000 acres of tidal marshes and wetlands, more than three miles of shoreline and two miles of navigation channels will be protected in an effort to bolster the Delaware Bay’s green infrastructure.
Three projects in Delaware are among 54 projects along the Atlantic coastline that will collectively receive $102.7 million from the U.S. Department of Interior through Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency funds.
Slaughter Beach’s Mispillion Harbor, which O’Mara said is home to one of the largest concentration of horseshoe crab spawning in the world, will receive $4.5 million.
Another $2 million will go toward the restoration of coastal wetland impoundments and beach habitat at the Ted Harvey Conservation Area near Dover in an effort to curb flooding at Kitts Hummock, Pickering Beach, Little Creek and surrounding farmlands.
The remaining $400,000 will fund a University of Delaware research project aimed at creating a three-dimensional wetland model to assess the present state of the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna and address long-term sustainability of the marshes in the refuge.
The $4.5 million dedicated to Mispillion Harbor will fund an assortment of projects, including a 550-foot extension of an existing rock sill that extends into the bay and the addition of 200,000 cubic yards of sand to protect shoreline habitats. Additional beach grass will help keep the sand in place to hopefully curb the ongoing erosion of beaches in the area of the DuPont Nature Center. The projects also will address the protection of the tidal flow and navigation of the Mispillion River and Cedar Creek channels.
“If you’re going to do a project to protect against coastal storms, you have to do it big,” DNREC representative Karen Bennett said during a boat tour of the harbor that the officials took on Friday.
Bennett and O’Mara, along with representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, got a first-hand look at the receding coast line of a small, sandy island near the DuPont Nature Center during the boat tour. The tiny sand mass, which is growing smaller without proper reinforcement, is a pivotal location during the yearly spawning of horseshoe crabs that provides life-saving food during the more than 9,300-mile northern migration of the Red Knot, a species that attracts the attention of international bird watchers to Slaughter Beach each May.
During the tour, Bennett described the mid-May scene on that small island as a jam-packed feeding frenzy, with tens of thousands of birds doubling their weight to survive their northern migration.
“Every square inch is covered with birds and horseshoe crabs,” she said. “It’s a knot of knots, really concentrated on one area.”
The proposed reinforcements also are expected to keep the Mispillion River on the right track, protect those channels that run into the bay, curb coastal erosion, protect against future coastal storms.
By protecting these vulnerable ecosystems, and ensuring the navigation of the channels into the Delaware Bay, the projects will in turn support commercial and recreational fishermen who would not be able to leave the Cedar Creek boat launch if the channels were filled with sediment, according to DNREC officials.
The restoration and resiliency efforts are all about a “systems approach” to reinforcing green infrastructure, said Al Rizzo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Project Leader with the Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Rizzo is spearheading a previously funded project to restore a damaged breach at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Milton.
“If this project [at the Mispillion Harbor] goes bad, Prime Hook goes belly up,” he said during the boat ride. “It’s not just a standalone project.”
Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Northeast Regional Director, said the emphasis on partnerships, with the backing of fervent advocacy for Bayshore restoration projects and science-based research, makes Delaware’s proposals rather impressive.
“I’m glad [Delaware] has put such an emphasis on science and partnerships and advocacy,” she said during the press conference. “We can’t afford not to do this kind of work if we want to have a more resilient future.”