Local beach replenishment timetable still uncertain

This summer, Delaware is receiving $30 million worth of beach replenishment services from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the big question is when.

After losing sand from the dunes and beach to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the East Coast was allotted federal funding through the Corps for repairs, which were supposed to begin in Delaware in June. Town officials have been told to expect replenishment beginning as soon as this month, with contractors already given the go-ahead for preparatory steps.

Determining dates for such projects is already a tricky process because a dredge may be coming from another project location. The contractor makes the final decision and, “It is not that exact of a science,” said Tony Pratt, manager for DNREC’s Shoreline & Waterway Management Section. “Take it with a grain of salt.”

In 2005, Dewey Beach was expecting a big replenishment project that initially lasted six hours, before a damaged pipe stopped work for two weeks.

“Anything can happen, I’ve learned,” Pratt said this week.

Indian River Inlet should be the first to see work, but the final contract and order of operations has not been determined, he added.

DNREC generally recommends beginning the process with higher-population areas, such as Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach, before moving on to less-populated areas, such as South Bethany and Fenwick Island. All those towns will see a barge being located offshore that will pump sand to the beach. The Lewes project is small enough to just import sand by the truckload.

But stormwater outfall pipes off Rehoboth Beach are undergoing retrofitting, which may impact Rehoboth’s schedule, as only one contractor can work in the area at a time.

Pratt noted that, currently, surveys are being done across the coast in preparation for the replenishment, so DNREC or Army Corps vessels may be witnessed offshore. At this point, no private beaches, such as Sea Colony, are piggybacking on the replenishment project, Pratt said.

Summertime is preferred for replenishment because marine life are more affected by winter work. And because people are not allowed to use the immediate area of the replenished beach during replenishment work, the goal is to work quickly and close the beach in minimal portions. That information is worked into the final contract,” noted Pratt.

“We are certainly very, very aware that we’re moving into recreational beaches in the middle of the … summer season, when people are here to enjoy themselves,” Pratt said. “We will try to move as quickly as possible.”

However, the contractor must have ample room for pipes, equipment stockpiles, the construction trailer and more.

“They’ve got to make it safe for their people — not so cramped that they can’t work, but small as possible, so people can enjoy themselves.”

In the beach towns, concerns linger about which projects will get started first and the impact the resulting timetable will have on beachgoers, whether they’re short-term renters or year-round residents, and the extended impact on local businesses.

“We hope they’ll work at the inlet first and push ours as far back as possible,” Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet told council members at a June 21 meeting, expressing hopes shared by the town’s beachfront neighbors.

Pratt said the contractors are used to working with beach towns and are good to work with. Pre-Sandy beach replenishment may have prevented worse damage to towns and infrastructure, he emphasized.

“It’s a balancing act. We’re certainly glad that the Congress was generous and is allowing us to build our beaches … to get back to defensive levels,” Pratt said.