Fenwick Group Reviews Dredging Permits, Contract

FENWICK ISLAND – Officials say contract negotiations and testing will continue as the town awaits permit approvals for a long-awaited dredging project.

Late last month, the Town of Fenwick Island submitted three permit applications for a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay. In last week’s meeting of the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee, Councilman Bill Rymer, committee chair, said the town will continue to work with a local developer to finalize contract negotiations and sediment testing as those applications are being reviewed.

“We’re trying to get everything done, so when we get those approved permits, we can start dredging,” he said.

Earlier this year, members of the dredging committee convened to discuss three potential placement sites for material that will ultimately be dredged from the bay. At the time, Rymer noted that while the town continued to explore locations such as Seal Island and Seatowne, it was starting to reevaluate a parcel of land off Route 54 owned by Carl M. Freeman Companies.

“This was the location that was being discussed two years ago,” he said at the time. “Their timeframe had changed, so about one-and-a-half years ago they told the town they were going to proceed with their development plans without utilizing our dredged material. However, they came back to us later last fall.”

From those discussions came a renewed interest in partnering with the town and using its dredged materials on the company’s property. Since January, the town has been working with its solicitor’s office, and a specialized environmental attorney, to draft a legal agreement that could allow the partnership, and permitting, to move forward.

In an update last week, Rymer said officials continue to hash out the terms of a land access agreement between the town and Carl M. Freeman Companies. He noted, however, that the contract would not be finalized until the town completes additional sediment testing of the dredging channels.

“As part of our discussions with a local developer and using their property, they reviewed the sediment analysis that was performed that support all the permits, but they requested additional work for sampling on a couple other items – diesel range organics, gasoline range organics – and they wanted more sampling than what was needed for the permitting process,” he explained. “So in negotiations, we agreed to do that sampling. The folks did the samples yesterday, and they are headed to the lab.”

Steve Bagnull, representative for the engineering firm Anchor QEA, noted tested would be completed in the coming weeks.

“It’s possible it could be faster, but I don’t want to overpromise,” he said.

Rymer noted that while the sediment testing required additional time, he said it would benefit the town.

“As a town doing this project, we’d much rather know if we have problems before, than pumping it up and finding we have problems subsequent,” he said. “Then we are dealing with sediment that needs to go somewhere else, and we can’t pick it up and put it back in the bay.”

Rymer added that the company remained committed to making the project a reality.

“They continue to express sincere interest in making this happen,” he said. “And that’s how we’re proceeding.”

Rymer said dredging permits have been filed with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the goal is to complete the project during the state’s next dredging window, which begins in October and ends in March.

When asked if Carl M. Freeman Companies and local and federal agencies were aware of the town’s timeline, Rymer said they were. He added that since the dredging permits were filed last week, the town had already received a public notice from the state.

“The contract and the testing isn’t going to be the potential slowdown,” he said. “It’s the approval of permit applications. That’s our biggest press right now.”

Committee member Steve Magdeburger also questioned the bidding process.

“Is there work that still needs to be done, as far as drafting a request for bids?” he asked.

Bagnull said there was.

“There is going to be a final stage, putting together specifications and contract drawings to get this out to bid. That will be the final task …,” he replied. “There is some work needed there to get it together.”

Plans to dredge roughly 19,000 cubic yards of material from the Little Assawoman Bay began in earnest in 2018, when the town hired Tony Pratt, a former administrator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), to guide them through the funding and permitting processes. And in 2019, Anchor QEA, a Lewes-based engineering firm, was brought on board to provide design, bidding and construction management.

The committee last week also reviewed the town’s request for state bond funding to help finance the project. While the project received $700,000 in bond bill funding the last two years, Rymer said the town was seeking an additional $300,000 in fiscal year 2024.

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.