FENWICK ISLAND – A Fenwick Island committed voted last week to proceed with two studies as part of a bay dredging project, but officials say their efforts also hinge on a memorandum of understanding between the town and a local developer.
Last Thursday, the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee voted 4-1, with member George Murphy opposed, to proceed with soil and archeological studies of the Little Assawoman Bay at a cost of roughly $51,000.
While the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is requiring the town to complete the two studies as part of its long-awaited dredging project, Murphy told committee members last week the town still needed to identify a location to place the dredged material.
It should be noted that Fenwick Island officials have been working with the Carl M. Freeman Companies to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would allow the town to place dredged material on one of its properties – a parcel of land along the Little Assawoman Bay that has been approved for a 70-lot subdivision. Late last month, however, the town learned the developer was accelerating that project and would not wait for the town to proceed with their dredging plans.
“The only reason I’m voting nay is because there’s no MOU in place,” he said. “We are throwing good money after bad.”
Plans for a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay began in earnest in 2018, when the town council hired former DNREC administrator Tony Pratt to guide them through the funding and permitting processes. By the following year, Anchor QEA, a Lewes-based engineering firm, was brought on board to provide design, bidding and construction managements services.
Simply put, the estimated $1.1 million dredging project is expected to address shoaling in the back-bay system and connect boating channels along Fenwick’s bayside canals to the main channel in the Little Assawoman Bay. As part of that effort, between 17,000 and 19,000 cubic yards of dredged material would be moved to another site for reuse.
Last week, Pratt and Anchor QEA Project Manager Steve Bagnull provided committee members with an update on the town’s dredging project. Bagnull noted that while the town had submitted permit applications to DNREC and the Army Corps, the two agencies would not issue a permit without two additional studies – a sediment testing study and a cultural resource study, which uses hydrographic surveying to identify any submerged historical artifacts.
“Our goal is to get this information, get it buttoned into our revised applications, and have them submitted by the end of the year,” he said.
The committee last week ultimately voted to use $51,000 from the town’s dredging fund to conduct the additional studies. Bagnull said the setback would likely push the project into the fall of 2022.
“It’s a very dynamic project, a lot of entities involved, a lot of resources involved …,” he said. “I know it can be frustrating at times.”
Officials noted they will now need to work with Freeman Companies to identify a new site for its dredged material. With its initial property off the table, Bagnull said the developer has proposed a few hypothetical alternatives near the dredging site.
“We need to understand some of the engineering constraints and cost implementations of placing the material there,” he said.
Bagnull told committee members last week the town would need to review the comments the company submitted in the draft MOU. Officials noted the goal was to finalize the memorandum in the coming months, as the public-private partnership would be the most financially feasible option for the town.
“If you don’t get this MOU, you could be looking at years before this project moves forward,” Pratt said.
Councilman and committee member Bill Rymer said if an agreement could not be reached with Freeman Companies, the alternatives would be to place the material on subaqueous lands – which would require additional permits and testing – or to truck it out to another site.
“We are where we are,” he told committee members. “There are things we have to accomplish moving forward … It’s a moving target sometimes.”
To date, the town has spent $69,000 on testing and consulting services for the dredging project, but Rymer said that number is expected to increase by another $80,000 or $90,000.
While the town has secured a $350,000 grant from the state, officials say they are also working with partners at the county level.
“We’ll continue to search for alternatives to help the town,” Bagnull said. “The goal is to get it to a level where the town can afford to do the project.”