New beach

Fenwick Islanders can breathe a sigh of relief.

Work on the planned beach reconstruction project for the town proceeded this week with the first in a series of pre-construction meetings set to get new sand pumping onto the beach in mid-August.

That forward momentum was cemented by the $1.7 in federal funding included for the project in a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill for the 2006 fiscal year.

The funding itself is not yet set in concrete, with the Senate moving into its appropriations process in the coming week and a conference bill to bring the two versions together before the final federal budget is locked later this year.

But Fenwick Island officials were relatively comfortable with the funding issues this week, as the $1.7 million allocated in HR 2419 is the only exception to the bill’s complete curtailing of federal funds for Delaware beach reconstruction projects.

It’s also in addition to the $2.1 million in federal funds allocated for the Fenwick Island project in the 2005 fiscal year budget. (That amount would need to be spent before Sept. 30, 2005 — the final day of the 2005 federal fiscal year.)

And any further concerns were alleviated at the June 14 meeting with officials from Fenwick Island, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the Army Corps of Engineers and dredging company Bean Stuyvesant.

Corps representatives confirmed that funding for the project will be sufficient in any number of possible scenarios.

With the $1.7 million in federal funding provided in the House bill (and likely to remain in any and all other versions) and a state cost-share of 35 percent, the Fenwick Island project is all but guaranteed to move forward to completion.

The same would hold true even if a conference bill is not passed prior to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, since a continuing resolution that would provide ongoing funding for the federal government until a final budget agreement is reached would also provide funding for the Fenwick Island project at levels set in the 2005 fiscal year budget (even higher than that set in HR 2419).

Barring a complete breakdown of the budgeting process (and federal government shutdown) or a 180-degree change that eliminated funding for the project, Fenwick Island’s beaches will be getting a hefty influx of new sand starting Aug. 15.

That date was established at the request of town officials, who were seeking to limit the impact of the construction on the busy summer season and asked that the start date be pushed back toward Labor Day to balance the completion date with that impact.

As it stands, Bean Stuyvesant plans to start bringing equipment and personnel into Fenwick Island in early August. A construction headquarters will be placed either at the state park facility to the north of the town or at one of three “staging areas” located at the beach ends of Indian, Bayard and Farmington streets.

The presence of two private driveways at Farmington was noted at the meeting, with Jim Thomas of Bean Stuyvesant saying his company would work with the property owners at those locations to assure access.

While specifics of the locations and schedules were still being determined this week, two “landfall” areas will be created on the beach as Aug. 15 nears. At those locations, pipes carrying sand from the offshore dredges will be placed, with fences, signs and warning markers set to keep beachgoers and curious onlookers from harm’s way.

The Fenwick Island Beach Patrol and a construction safety manager will also work to keep the areas secure. FIBP Capt. Tim Ferry said he would also be coordinating with the Ocean City (Md.) Beach Patrol during times when the project focuses on the south end of the beach and the town’s border with the Maryland resort town.

The size of each landfall area is to be limited to 1,000 feet in width, and sand will be pumped to both the south and north sides of each pipe before the landfall area and equipment is shifted down the beach.

As with other scheduling matters for the project, an anticipated completion date has not yet been set. Bean Stuyvesant has 180 days from the start of the project to complete it. But Thomas said he had hopes that completion could even take place prior to the Sept. 30 fiscal-year end mark.

That suggestion met with congenial skepticism from DNREC, Corps and town officials, but was not expected to be very far off the mark.

The only element of the project that can (and will) take place after the 180-day mark is the planting of dune grasses, which is being intentionally delayed until December 2005, as the planting is best done while the grasses are dormant during cold weather.

Dune crossings, handicapped access and fencing are to be completed during the 180-day period. Each of the planned crossings is to be 10 feet in width.

Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan expressed some concern about that dimension, noting that some of the town’s beach maintenance equipment exceeds 8 feet in width and he had concerns about turning radiuses along the crossovers. But Corps officials said they expected the room would prove sufficient and allowed that public works employees could continue to use the state beach or Ocean City beach ends to access the beach (as is current practice) if necessary.

In the coming months, the pre-construction work on the project will continue.

According to Steve Allen, an environmental engineer for the Corps, an environmental impact study is required under the project’s permits. That study will check the impact of the project on a federally-listed endangered plant species that has been spotted on the north end of Fenwick Island’s beach, at the edge of the state park area.

Typically, Allen said, the plant doesn’t show itself until the end of the summer, making late August the ideal time to verify its presence and steer the project around it. He said one or two days of study would allow the project to move forward.

Pre-construction surveys of the project area are also set for 30 to 40 days prior to the Aug. 15 target date. The close proximity is needed to verify the final state of the beach and its needs before construction begins.

The “mobilization” phase of the project is set to start in early August, with shorter lengths of pipe being brought in by truck to the various staging areas and longer lengths coming into the area by barge over the ocean.

Corps Project Engineer Ronald Dooley said he expected there would be no beach closures resulting from the work in early August, with the only control measures being those to keep people away from obstacles created as the equipment is moved in.

DNREC beach replenishment expert Tony Pratt asked that Bean Stuyvesant particularly target efficiency in storage of materials for the project, such as keeping pipes near each landing area and not leaving them behind as the landing areas were moved.

While allowance has been made for weather delays on the project, Dooley noted that rain and snow were not reasons for work delays in the pumping phase. Precipitation will, however, impact work on crossovers, dunes and dune grass planting. High seas and wind could delay the pumping process, though.

In the case of a severe storm or hurricane, work will be stopped and the equipment secured to prevent damage.

Archeological inspection will be an important part of the Fenwick Island project, particularly in the wake of discoveries during the Lewes reconstruction project.

The Corps has a team of archaeologists who will be doing periodic inspection of newly pumped sand for artifacts. They will also be making a presentation to Bean Stuyvesant employees to ensure they can recognize any artifacts and halt dredging as needed to preserve them.

At least two areas of archaeological concern (both suspected shipwrecks) have been noted in the planned “borrow” area, but buffer zones have been mapped to prevent dredging in those areas.

The other potential concern with the content of the pumped sand is unexploded ordnance, generally left in the offshore areas off Delaware’s beaches from World War II-era training.

To avoid bringing ordinance onto the beach, the dredges will be outfitted with a 1.5-inch screen. Visual inspection will take place at the end of the discharge line and a safety plan will be distributed to lifeguards, town hall, police and emergency officials outlining how to handle any potential discovery of ordinance.

Pratt noted that hobbyists with magnetometers had proven helpful in finding ordinance and artifacts in the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach project area. He said their equipment was of sufficient grade and their eagerness to discover items of such magnitude that they often found items themselves. “The problem is taking care of itself,” he said.

Additionally, turtle monitors will keep an eye out for the animals and a 4-by-4-inch screen will help keep soft-bodied creatures from moving from the dredging hopper and into the pipelines. All monitors will have the authority to stop the dredging should any problems or safety hazards be spotted.

The exact nature of the material to be used to construct crossover areas was also noted as a concern at the June 14 meeting. Pratt said he had been unhappy with the material used in the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach project, finding it too gravelly and not sandy enough.

A sample and specification for the material to be used in Fenwick Island was to be provided to Pratt and town officials to ensure a similar problem doesn’t occur there.

Dooley chalked the previous problem up to the lack of availability of a preferred borrow pit and said that pit and other preferred borrow locations could be identified prior to collecting the material for Fenwick Island.

Officials also noted that there would be “limited” disturbance of the western walls of existing sand dunes, with the bulk of work focusing on the eastern sides of the dunes and extending out to the new shoreline.

\Additional pre-construction meetings and informational sessions for town residents and property owners were to be scheduled in the time leading up to the scheduled Aug. 15 dredging start date.

But after many months of anticipation and concern, it appears Fenwick Island’s beach reconstruction is on track to change the face of the town’s shoreline.