Bethany can’t handle loss of wetlands, public says

Bethany Beach is running out of space for floodwater to go, said residents who oppose a proposal to fill 1.92 acres of non-tidal forested wetlands for a multi-family residential development.

They spoke at a March 4 public hearing regarding Stanley and Dolores Walcek’s permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill the land just off Garfield Parkway, in preparation to build the Mews of Bethany — six four-unit multi-family structures.

The Corps must determine whether the Walceks would be adequately mitigating the loss of the 1.9 acres of forested non-tidal wetlands along the flood-prone Loop Canal by creating 4 acres of new wetlands at a location behind 84 Lumber in Clarksville.

The hearing is just the beginning of a long process before anything could be built there.

The Bethany Beach Town Council has already voted to formally oppose development there. Plans to develop the property were also opposed by neighbors and town officials in 2008 and 2012.

Creating a wetlands site “four miles away and higher in elevation clearly does not [mitigate] the environmental impact in Bethany Beach. … It will disrupt the ecological balance,” said Diane Boyle Fogash of the Bethany Beach Landowners Association, which represents more than 1,100 households.

Councilman Bruce Frye said he has received no emails in favor of the project.

The wetlands are a natural sponge for a town that spent $50,000 for an engineer to tell them “there’s no good answer” to reducing Bethany’s chronic flooding, Frye said. “So why would we want to do something that would increase flooding?”

Flooding is an inconvenience and a safety hazard, some argued, especially if ambulances can’t drive down a flooded street.

Brian Nestor argued to the deficiency of the Walceks’ actual application to the Corps, saying it includes mitigation at the 4-acre site but doesn’t propose a water mitigation plan for the actual Bethany site.

Neighbors on the wetlands agreed that the already-waterlogged area will only be worsened by replacing wetlands with impervious surfaces that can’t soak up water or the nutrients that pollute water.

“We are saturated,” said Scott Talbot. “The joke in Stewards Watch is that we don’t have decks — we have docks,” he said of the nearby development.

Bethany residents may be used to flooding, but they say there’s no room for more.

Meanwhile, the heavily polluted Inland Bays already exceed total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), so wetlands are especially vital to help filter nutrients, residents said.

Bethany Beach’s comprehensive plan seeks to preserve wetlands and reduce flooding, so the State should support the Town’s mission, said Chris Bason, speaking as an Ocean View resident, not as director of the Center for the Inland Bays.

“These types of things are happening all over the county,” Bason said. “It would be a lot better for people … dealing with the same issue if there was state regulation … of freshwater wetlands.”

Some people mentioned their displeasure at losing the beautiful wetland views, which includes Bethany’s wildlife, such as foxes, eagles, raccoons and more.

No one at the March 4 hearing spoke in favor of the project. However, the final speaker suggested that the development was unavoidable. Sheila Rose lives on a Roxana-area farm and said she’s unaffiliated with the project. Rose said “Money talks,” so she figures people are going to do what they want. There is still Camp Barnes, Assawoman Wildlife Refuge and people who take care of the environment, Rose said.

Years ago, she said, her family built beach houses for their large family.

“We never objected to people. It was ‘live and let live.’ It stinks that our tides are coming up. I don’t know how we’re going [to fight it]. You need to make your boat lifts higher.”

Ultimately, she said, she felt this was a “live and let live” situation.

Hosted by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC), the public hearing included two applications: the Federal Consistency Determination (reviewed by the Delaware Coastal Management Program) and a Water Quality Certification (reviewed by the Wetlands & Subaqueous Lands Section).

At this point, DNREC and the Corps have closed public comments on the application, although the Corps could choose to have a public hearing, too. A decision could be expected in mid-summer, said Attorney Robert P. Haynes, who presided over the hearing.