Study Identifies Fenwick Flood Risks

FENWICK ISLAND – A draft resiliency study has identified short- and long-term solutions to the impacts of sea level rise in Fenwick Island.

On Tuesday, the Fenwick Island Infrastructure Committee reviewed the results of a town-wide resiliency study. Funded by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and conducted by AECOM, the study outlines the community’s risk to sea level rise and projects that could enhance the town’s resiliency.

“The Town of Fenwick Island is particularly at risk to sea level rise (SLR) due to its geographical location of being bound by the Little Assawoman Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east,” the study reads. “Fenwick Island’s proximity to both bodies of water make it highly susceptible to daily tidal inundation and tidal surges during inclement weather and storm events. Future SLR projections depict nearly 82% of existing buildings located to the west of Route 1 as being inundated twice daily and 43% of all roadways becoming inundated during high tide by the year 2080.”

In December 2021, the town selected AECOM to complete GIS mapping of Fenwick Island and develop short- and long-term solutions to sea level rise and flooding. And while engineers agreed to come forward with recommendations for flood mitigation at the end of 2022, committee members this week received its first full presentation.

The study presented Tuesday not only identified recent and ongoing resiliency initiatives, but proposed actions to alleviate flooding.

“The Town will need to take immediate action in addition to plan for long-term projects to increase overall resiliency,” the study reads. “Seventeen recommended actions and activities were recognized as being beneficial to the Town of Fenwick Island to implement.”

Proposed short-term projects recommended by AECOM include code updates that specify bulkheads and standards, drainage improvements and participation in future storm risk studies. Action items to be completed by 2060 include raising bulkheads, homes and streets, while action items to be completed by 2080 include elevating properties and constructing a structural dune, or seawall.

“Creation of a structural dune would be a very large undertaking and would need to a joint project between the Town, State and the USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers),” the study reads. “Should a structural dune be installed, it should be done so in tandem with a scheduled beach replenishment project allowing time for the dune to stabilize from the planting of beach grasses.”

In addition to reviewing the study, committee members this week forwarded a favorable recommendation to the town council to hire a surveyor to identify the water elevation at the end of bayside streets as the town considers design standards for bulkheads.

“This way the town can start discussing how we can get there, funding, etc. and if in fact it is what the majority of the town wants to do,” Councilman Richard Benn, committee chair, said. “The surveyor would also provide the heights of a sampling of the existing bulkheads for the committee and any future engineering use.”

In October, AECOM representatives presented the committee with water inundation maps, which showed 12% of bayside roads being inundated by 2060 and 33% of bayside roads being inundated by 2070. The town’s most troubled areas, representatives explained, were North Schulz Road, South Schulz Road and Dagsboro Street, which could see the most flooding in the coming decades.

“You’ll see in 2070 you start seeing large areas of the bayside starting to be impacted on a daily basis. Some of the areas are under two feet of water during the high tide cycle,” Project Manager Kyle Gulbronson said at the time. “You get to 2080, and you have significant impacts on the bayside, anywhere from a foot to two-and-a-half feet of flooding per day.”

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.