FENWICK ISLAND – Officials say disagreements over a dredging window could impact the timeline for a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay.
On Tuesday, Councilman Bill Rymer told members of the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee that the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were working through a disagreement regarding the town’s dredging window. While the town hopes to start a dredging project next spring, he said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is disputing the project’s timeline.
“Until we can get the Army Corps to review the work from DNREC and agree with them, while we have not yet received an Army Corps permit, I would expect that’s going to impose a dredge window restriction,” he told the committee. “That’s obviously extremely disappointing since our local experts, DNREC Fish and Wildlife, have a lot more intimate knowledge of this area and why they reached the conclusion to not require a window. And I’m hopeful they can present the information to the Army Corps so the Army Corps, which is the federal level, will follow suit with the local expertise.”
In mid-July, the town received a memo from DNREC Fish and Wildlife noting the town’s dredging project would not be constrained to a dredging window and could occur at any time throughout the calendar year. With that confirmation, members of the dredging committee began planning for a dredging project to take place in the spring of 2024.
“Typically in other areas you can’t dredge between March 1 and September 30,” Rymer explained. “But DNREC said we don’t have those restrictions, so we are able to dredge in the spring.”
Rymer, however, told committee members Tuesday a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had reached out to him after reading his comments in an article from The Dispatch. He said the representative questioned why Rymer believed the town could dredge in the spring.
“I have asked DNREC to provide that information to the Army Corps with the hopes that once the Army Corps receives that information and it’s shared with National Marine Fishery Services, that they will reach the same conclusion DNREC did,” he said.
Rymer said if the federal agency decides to impose a dredging restriction, the town’s dredging project could not begin until Oct. 1, 2024. He said that also impacted the town’s partnership with Carl M. Freeman Companies, which will use the dredged material at one of its nearby properties.
“I spoke with the representative for the landowner, and they will accept dredge material in the fall of 2024 …,” he said. “One important point the representative made was our work absolutely has to be done by December 31. So they are willing to work with us – and I sincerely appreciate their flexibility on this – but we have to be done by the 31st of December and all of our equipment removed.”
Rymer said if the Army Corps established a dredging window, the town could seek a waiver to start work in September. He said he expected dredging crews to be in the water for 45 to 60 days.
“Every week, every day, counts,” he said. “So if the Army Corps sticks with the current timeframe, if we could get this waiver approve, we could gain back one full month in September.”
Committee member Andy Emerson questioned what would happen if the project was delayed.
“Is it right to assume that if, somehow or another, we were delayed in that second 90-day window from October through December, that essentially we would be reset for this entire project?” he asked. “Wouldn’t we need to find a new dredge location for the material?”
Rymer said if the project were delayed, the town would have to start over and find another location to place the dredged material. In that case, he said the town could reach out to Seatowne – a community that had expressed interest in using the material to rebuild its wetlands – or it could work with the state to reconstruct Seal Island.
“Seal Island would take a lot more effort because ultimately we’d have to get the state of Delaware to approve us to reconstitute that island,” he said. “Based on our wok with them, it would take at least two years.”
Emerson noted that the town’s infrastructure committee was working on initiatives to protect the town from sea level rise. He questioned if the material could be used to shore up street ends that did not have bulkheads.
“If this does get delayed, we would open it up and see if a portion of it could be used for sea level rise protection for our town …,” Rymer replied. “But we still need an area large enough to receive a bulk of the material coming out of the two channels.”
Despite the setback, Rymer said the town continues to work with Anchor QEA, the Lewes-based engineering firm, to develop a bid package. If permits from DNREC and the Army Corps are received in the coming weeks, he said the town could put the project out to bid in late January.
“Obviously, this issue about the dredge window should not impact DNREC’s permit, but we will continue to work with the Army Corps in the hopes we can get that window opened up …,” he said. “Hopefully our permit won’t be delayed as a result of that.”