Fenwick Committee Continues To Explore Sites For Dredging Project

FENWICK ISLAND – With major studies now complete, a Fenwick Island committee says it will continue to explore deposit sites for a long-awaited dredging project.

Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee met to discuss the next steps in its Little Assawoman Bay dredging project.

Since its last meeting in February, Councilman Bill Rymer, committee chair, noted the town has completed all the required studies identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) as part of the preliminary permitting process.

“Overall, we have finally reached an important milestone …,” he said. “We’ve done the sediment sampling and we’ve just finished the second round of the archaeological study. Now we’re at the point where we have done everything that we can for our own dredge materials, our own channels. The number one project we have now is to find a location.”

Simply put, the dredging project is expected to address shoaling in the back-bay system and connect boating channels along Fenwick’s bayside canals to the main channels in the Little Assawoman Bay. As part of that effort, roughly 19,000 cubic feet of dredged material would be moved to another side for reuse, though it remains to be seen what that location would be.

In December, committee members began exploring a partnership with Seatowne, a residential community north of Fenwick. The proposed beneficial use project would use Fenwick’s dredged material to replenish roughly 19 acres of wetlands near the community.

“They’ve got a board of directors of their homeowners association, which is meeting in early April,” Rymer explained. “If that goes well and the board supports it, they will then have a presentation to their entire community at the end of May and have a community wide vote.”

But officials noted that is not the only avenue the town is exploring for its dredging project. A subcommittee has also been formed to explore an alternative deposit site at Seal Island, located in the middle of the Little Assawoman Bay.

“We’ve already had several discussions with members of DNREC,” said member George Murphy. “They are supportive of the idea, but obviously a lot of questions need to be answered.”

Officials say the idea is to begin reconstituting Seal Island one cell – or area – at a time with material from the town’s dredging project. They noted, however, that the possibility would require additional studies and funding.

“Community support for this is huge, and if we can make it happen that would be a great step …,” Rymer said. “The fact we can do it via a cell approach maybe makes it financially viable. I’m not excluding anything based on financials today because the game is let’s find the right location and see what kind of grant money we can get our hands on.”

Committee members last week also discussed the results of a Phase 1B archeological survey of the Little Assawoman Bay. Last month, the town agreed to pursue a second-phase study after it was learned an underwater object had been detected in one of the proposed dredge areas.

“We conducted the Phase 1B archeological investigation in mid- to early February …,” said Anchor QEA’s Steve Bagnull. “During that effort there were dozens of attempts to try and make contact with the item. There was one probe that made contact with a small object, but there was never another contact made. The contact was made below the proposed limit of the dredge channel. All the results are not indicative of this being any item of cultural or historical significance.”

Rymer agreed.

“At one point, I think the comment was we think it may be a thin, lead pipe or something like that,” he added. “But if we can’t find it, we can’t find it.”

Plans for a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay began in earnest in 2018, when the town hired Tony Pratt, former administrator for 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 management services.

“This is not an aspirational thing,” Murphy said last week. “We’re getting to the point where this is a need.”

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.