Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival, Milton Delaware

The News Journal - Wilmington, Del.

  • Subjects: Habitats; Sand & gravel; Shoreline protection; Floods
  • Author: Murray, Molly
  • Date: Jun 28, 2014
  • Start Page: 1
  • Section: A

The critical bird haven that looks like a sand bar in the middle of the Mispillion River used to be part of an adjacent beach - that is, until rising sea level, coastal storms and hurricanes opened a new stem of the Mispillion, dividing the beach into two sections, each critical habitats and both highly vulnerable to erosion and loss.

For years, state officials tried to protect the area with small projects.

But now, with the help of federal Sandy relief money, state officials are planning a big project aimed at rejoining the two sections of beach and bolstering protection.

"Instead of Band-Aids, it's our first huge opportunity to make a difference in habitat," said Karen Bennett, the state's Delaware Bayshore coordinator. "It's getting harder and harder for the shoreline to bounce back" on its own.

The area, just north of Mispillion Inlet, is such an important habitat during the spring migration of shorebirds that state officials have a high definition video camera on the remaining sand spit. The camera captures birds feeding on horseshoe crab eggs on the beach in such high definition, Bennett said, that people can watch on their home computers and read the identifying numbers on the leg flags that many migratory shorebirds wear as part of tracking, monitoring and population research work.

"The birds are shoulder to shoulder,. It's just a feeding frenzy," Bennett said.

"Improving Delaware's coastal resiliency and preparedness to storms, sea-level rise and other climate impacts is not just essential for wildlife habitat, it's important for supporting a thriving economy and protecting the health and safety of our residents," said Collin O'Mara, the state environmental secretary.

State and federal officials took a closer look at the Mispillion Harbor restoration project on Friday, one of three that will be funded in Delaware with $6.9 million, much of it from Sandy Relief money. The grants, part of $102 million effort, are geared toward innovative or green infrastructure and restoration work that builds resilience.

Years ago, state officials built a rock pile along the beach in an attempt to hang onto the habitat and it worked for a while. Then, said Anthony P. Pratt, the state shoreline and waterway administrator, a storm hit, water from Delaware Bay started moving around the north end of the rocks and the beach was cut in half.

The plan is to extend the rocks to the north to form a sill and reconnect the opening between the two beach sections with some 200,000 cubic yards of sand, Pratt said. The additional rocks will provide a buffer from bay waves during storms. In addition, more sand will be placed on the Delaware Bay side of the rocks, adding an additional layer of protection, he said.

What state officials have learned, he said, is "if you're going to do a project that's resilient against coastal storms, you have to do it big."

The project also will include research and design of a plan to reduce flooding in the Milford Neck area. The plan is to restore a functioning wetland in the area, protect upland farmland from salt water flooding and preserve upland forests.

The total cost of the Mispillion and Milford Neck project: $4.5 million.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the key is to focus on resiliency, restoration, recovery and return on investment. Because of projects like this one, "now, in the future, we will have less cost when we have another Hurricane Sandy - and there will be one," he said.

A second restoration project is planned at Ted Harvey State Wildlife area, where an existing impoundment will be moved further inland. In addition, some beach renourishment work will be done there. The cost: $2 million.

The third project is a $400,000 assessment by the University of Delaware of the wetland hydrology at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

O'Mara said that while Sandy didn't devastate the Delaware Coast in the same way it impacted New York and New Jersey, the effect, especially to coastal environments along Delaware Bay. was significant.

"The climate is changing," he said. "We need to be much more resilient to its impacts."

Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival, Milton Delaware

Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival, Milton Delaware

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