Fenwick Eyes Seal Island For Bay Dredging Project

FENWICK ISLAND – As the focus of a long-awaited dredging project shifts to Seal Island, members of a Fenwick Island committee met this week to discuss next steps.

On Wednesday, the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee met to discuss plans for a dredging project in the neighboring Little Assawoman Bay. While plans are still being explored for a beneficial use project at Seatowne, a residential community north of Fenwick, Councilman Bill Rymer, committee chair, announced this week the committee was shifting its focus to Seal Island as a potential deposit site.

“We feel that Seatowne is option 1-B for us …,” he said. “We want to investigate Seal Island.”

Rymer noted that the town joined with Delaware State Parks – owner of Seal Island – for a Joint Permit Processing meeting last week. There, he said, the town presented the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control with its plans to provide safe navigation of the Little Assawoman Bay while restoring the highly degraded marsh island.

“The JPP meeting was basically a 15-minute presentation where we highlighted our goals and purpose,” he explained. “It was well received.”

While the town hopes to use its dredged material to reconstitute Seal Island – located in the middle of the Little Assawoman Bay – officials say it would take larger discussions on sediment retention, maintenance and cost.

“A prudent next step is to do some cost estimating around the potential perimeter materials that would be needed to keep this material in place and provide comfort to the regulatory agencies that this material won’t be washed away post-placement …,” said Anchor QEA’s Steve Bagnull. “We’d be looking at the most feasible and suitable options for the area.”

Rymer told committee members this week there was also the potential to take a cell approach, meaning the town would consider reconstituting a portion of Seal Island.

“We’ve got 19,000 cubic yards of material,” he said, “and one of our questions was will they accept a partial replenishment.”

Regardless of which location the town ultimately chooses, Rymer said Fenwick would need to explore funding opportunities for its dredging project.

To that end, Rymer said the town has filed a $100,000 grant application with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a $350,000 grant request as part of the state’s fiscal year 2023 bond bill.

“Our representative, Ron Gray, has been unbelievably supportive …,” he said. “My thought is we will hear in late June or July.”

Moving forward, committee members said they would need to update construction cost estimates for a Seal Island project, among other proposals. Rymer added that the town would also need to work closely with Delaware State Parks as it pursues the project.

“They will be our partner in this process, one way or another,” he said.

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.

Since that time, the town has explored numerous deposit sites for its dredged material, including a parcel of land off Route 54 owned by the Carl M. Freeman Companies. When those plans fell through, Fenwick officials turned their attentions to Seatowne, which would use the town’s material to replenish roughly 19 acres of wetlands near the community. Officials say the association’s homeowners will vote on the proposed partnership in late May.

“This project for the town has been a long time coming,” said committee member George Murphy. “It has nothing to do with the dredging itself, but it has everything to do with where do we put this stuff.”

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.