Fenwick Dredging Options Explored

FENWICK ISLAND – As a local developer reevaluates plans for a parcel of land off Route 54, officials in Fenwick Island say they are now seeking other sites to place dredged material.

Last Thursday, the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee kicked off its October meeting with discussions on a proposed public-private partnership between the town and Carl M. Freeman Companies.

As the town moves forward with a long-awaited dredging project, the plan was to partner with the developer to draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which would allow the placement of dredged materials onto a parcel of land neighboring the Little Assawoman Bay. But Councilman Bill Rymer, committee chair, said the county’s denial of a hotel project on the site has the developer reevaluating its options.

“They didn’t say no, they didn’t say never, but they were very clear that they are not able to engage at an MOU level, not able to commit to the project,” he told committee members last week.

Plans for a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay began in earnest in 2018, when the town council hired Tony Pratt, former administrator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), 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 feet of dredged material would be moved to another site for reuse.

Since 2019, the town has worked with Carl M. Freeman Companies to relocate the material to one of its properties, making the public-private partnership one that would save the town millions of dollars. In September, however, officials announced the Freeman Companies has decided to accelerate its project timeline for the identified spoil site – a parcel of land off Route 54 that had been approved for a 70-lot subdivision. To that end, officials began to explore an adjacent 9.2-acre parcel owned by the developer.

“If you remember, the property is split into two,” Rymer said. “There is a very large residential percentage – that’s the area that’s moving forward very quickly – and then there was the smaller portion up near Route 54.”

Rymer, however, told committee members a phone call with Freeman representatives last week made it clear the company was reviewing its options for the property after a proposal to build a hotel and restaurant on the 9.2-acre parcel failed to garner the county’s approval.

“They were very clear in their stance that they just can’t commit to us,” he said. “So now it’s on our watch to identify other options for the next phase of our dredging project.”

Rymer said another option was to use the dredged material to rebuild a submerged island. Rymer said the town, for example, could also work with Seatowne, a private community north of Fenwick Island, to replenish its beachhead.

“It’s very early in the stage of discussions and research, but it’s that kind of avenue we have to find …,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more to be done, and by no means is that the only thing we’re going to look at.”

Rymer told committee members last week it was now up to the town to take the next step.

“It’s now in our court to identify other sites …,” he said. “We are certainly not back to square one, but we certainly are not within six months of getting this thing done. We absolutely remain committed to a successful dredging project and getting it done as quickly as possible. We just know there’s more steps to go through.”

Committee members last week were also provided an update on sediment and archeological testing of the Little Assawoman Bay as part of the dredging project. While a $33,000 archeological study has yet to be completed, Anchor QEA’s Steve Bagnull noted a laboratory was currently analyzing the results of the sediment study.

“We should have laboratory results by the end of November …,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.