Yesterday I went to Rehoboth beach and attended the workshop for updates to Regulations Governing Beach Protection and Use of Beaches. I dropped by the beach before the meeting and saw waves eight feet tall at two second intervals hammering the beach. Seemed this was an appropriate day to have this meeting, and it was the two year anniversary of hurricane Sandy. The meeting was going to cover … “The Shoreline & Waterway Management Section is evaluating potential updates to the Regulations Governing Beach Protection and the Use of Beaches that will increase the effectiveness of the Coastal Construction Program and improve its protection of the beach and dune system. The purpose of updating the regulations is to incorporate recent legislative changes to the Beach Preservation Act (Del. Code Title 7, Chapter 68), while also incorporating DNREC and Division of Watershed Stewardship policies and construction standards that will result in less damage to structures and protection measures for the dune and beach resource. ” I expected to see a diverse turnout for this meeting and I was not disappointed. Mostly it was homeowners concerned with their beach front properties. The crew from Surfrider foundation were there and we had the same concern, beach safety.
We were shown a power point presentation about the Beach Preservation Act and a brief history of how it came about. After the storm of sixty two, it was apparent the state needed to do something about beach preservation, and include with that building guidelines. Without getting into long details, this was an informative meeting and the presentation will be posted online in about a week. The main concern with the homeowners that attended were property lines and building codes. Some wanted a clear definition of “act of god” I think they should change that to “stuff happens”. Now this was a workshop only, so it was a time to suggest solutions to protect dunes and beach accesses for beach communities. This was not a meeting about making new legislation, but a chance for the public to suggest ideas and concerns that can be considered. The parks’ drive on beach accesses were not included in this discussion and will not be, since the parks are responsible for their own beach access areas, such as drive on and walk on access. If you are worried this committee will create legislation that will restrict drive on beach access you have nothing to worry about. That was one of my concerns, but I was told it was not in their jurisdiction before the meeting. One of the things that struck me was most of the homeowners there were concerned with their properties and how it was zoned. Once again the concern for pretty beaches and building lines was the main agenda. Only a few were concerned with the overall safety of our beaches on a recreation aspect. One homeowner wanted to know when the beaches are replenished in front of their home, will their property line be extended.
There was a discussion about defining acts of god a few times, then it came time for the question and answer period. Dominic Ragni member 0f the Surfrider foundation Delaware Chapter asked who is responsible for cleaning up after these acts of god. Meaning who cleans up a house or houses that are spread all over a beach from a storm? That was a good point and was duly noted, after heavy storms there is all kinds of debris on beaches and in the water. That can be very dangerous to surfers, or boaters, and detrimental to people driving or walking onto a beach. Who is responsible for picking up this debris? There was a discussion about temporary structures on the beaches from rental storage sheds, temporary stairs to traverse dunes, and even life guard stands. It was pointed out there needs to be a ruling that requires these structures be removed from the beaches before a heavy storm. I don’t know how many of those sets of stairs we have found during a beach clean up after a heavy storm, or the contents of those sheds. Homeowners were concerned mostly with property values for the most part. One homeowner from Prime Hook Beach asked about Fowlers breach and said it was an embarrassment that is has yet to be fixed, and I have to agree with her on that one. It would have been simple to just dump sand up there and block off that breach, now the freshwater marsh is dead, and fills in with water too fast flooding the bay side of those communities. It was a good suggestion to have listed as a concern. I asked if anyone has considered, instead of protecting the dunes from the land, if we could look towards the sea. I wanted to know if anyone had considered building a underwater seawall much like the breaker walls at the outer and inner walls in the Harbor of Refuge. I honestly think I stunned the audience. The main concern the whole meeting was, how do we protect the dunes from encroaching construction on the land side and protect the dunes themselves so they can be a barrier from storms, no one has looked at it from the other side.
We spend millions of dollars on beach replenishment only to have it wash away in no time. My suggestion would protect the beaches from storm surge, and eventually could help rebuild the beaches by creating a permanent sandbar like structure. Basically it would help create “softer and smoother” wave action. Not to mention that the structure would attract fish to the area since it would cover with all kinds of reef like creatures. The problem now with beach replenishment is our beaches are so steep that waves just hammer right into the shoreline. Increasing the dangers to swimmers, anglers, and beach goers. People will not visit a beach that has dangerous conditions for swimming and visit elsewhere, taking their money with them. Who wants to go to the hospital while on vacation? There were a lot of spinal injuries this year because of these waves. There are studies in other areas of the east coast looking at structures like this. Our beach replenishment and sand relocation program needs to create sand bars in front of the beaches to naturally rebuild the beaches and create a milder shorebreak. The sand relocation program needs to start pumping the sand in front of the beach at north side into the water, not onto the beach, that would make a huge difference and help create these needed sandbars.
All in all it was a very informative workshop. I am looking forward to future meetings to discuss these issues. We need to do something to protect the shoreline, beaches, and dune structures. I think we need to look at ways to calm the waves down as a whole and work from the oceanside. This would protect everyone’s interests at one time, and not just a portion of concerned beach tourists, and homeowners. This would also be more of a permanent solution, not just the band aid of beach replenishment that we have now just so people will visit our pretty beaches, but can’t get into the water with pounding, dangerous waves. One of the things I pointed out to several reporters I talked with at the end of the meeting, that beach replenishment is bad for fishing. Stirred up dirty water does not make for ideal surf fishing conditions, we see this during and after high winds with dirty surf. I compared it to standing in a room full of smoke, or standing on a beach with high winds getting blasted with sand. Fish will move to areas that are cleaner because it is easier to feed, and breath. A good example is when the pumps are on for sand relocation at the north side and the tide is coming in, or current is moving up the coast, the fishing at Delaware Seashore State Park north of the bridge drops off considerably. If we continue to constantly pump sand onto beaches, and stir up the waters, people will stop fishing here and the socioeconomic impact will be noticed by many businesses in this area. Hopefully we can come up with a better solution that benefits everyone in the long run.