Posted on January 27, 2023
FENWICK ISLAND – A $16,000 proposal to complete permitting work for a new dredging placement site will advance to the town council with the support of a Fenwick Island committee.
On Tuesday, the Fenwick Island Dredging Committee voted unanimously to advance a proposal from Anchor QEA, a Lewes-based engineering firm, to the town council with a favorable recommendation. Project Manager Steve Bagnull said the $16,000 contract will allow the company to complete permitting work related to the town’s dredging and placement project.
“This will be for filing permit applications with the state and the Army Corps of Engineers …,” he explained. “We expect this process will play out over a period of six months or less.”
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 services.
This week, committee members reconvened to discuss three potential placement sites for material that will ultimately be dredged from the Little Assawoman Bay. Councilman Bill Rymer, committee chair, said that while the town continues to explore locations such as Seal Island and Seatowne, it is now looking closely at 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 explained. “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 late last fall.”
From those discussions, Rymer said, came a renewed interest in partnering with the town and using its dredged materials on the company’s property.
“This is our cheapest, most cost-effective alternative,” he said. “Between the grants that are available to the town and the amount of money in our reserves, it will get us close to the $900,000 or $950,000 that is necessary to complete the project.”
Rymer said the town is working with its solicitor to draft a legal agreement that could allow the partnership to move forward.
“This requires much less engineering, it’s a much easier permitting process … and if all goes well this is our best option for completing the dredging project in the next dredging window, which is November and December of 2023 and January and February of 2024,” he said.
After further discussion, the committee agreed to forward a favorable recommendation to have Anchor QEA complete permitting work related to a potential dredging and placement project at the Route 54 property.
“The town has reserve funds set aside for dredging,” Rymer explained. “So this cost will be covered by the reserves that are already there.”
In an update this week, Rymer added the town was still working with officials from DNREC and Delaware State Parks to explore a potential restoration project at Seal Island using the town’s dredged material. He noted, however, that officials continue to weigh its risks and benefits.
“The discussions are deep and sincere but it’s clear there are conflicts and that’s the primary reason this is taking a long time,” he explained. “People like the idea, but there are concerns about engineering and negative impacts that haven’t been resolved.”
Further complicating the matter, Rymer said, was the state’s desire to turn a rehabilitated Seal Island into a bird sanctuary.
“The head of Delaware State Parks said their intent was to declare a reconstituted Seal Island an official bird sanctuary, meaning no people would be allowed on the island …,” he said. “We loved the idea that the island could be accessible to the community like it had been for 50 or 60 years.”
Rymer also told committee members this week that town officials continue to communicate with the homeowners association at Seatowne, a residential community located just north of Fenwick Island. Should Fenwick Island decide to partnership with Seatowne, Rymer said its dredged material would be used to restore nearby wetlands.
“In talking with the HOA folks at Seatowne, they remain interested in engaging with us for enhancing their wetlands …,” he explained. “Based on the conversations we’ve had about upland placement and Seal Island, this is starting to feel like option two.”
Rymer this week also updated the committee on the town’s applications for grant funding.
While the town did not receive the $100,000 grant it had applied for through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), he said it was still in the running for a $1.1 million grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Town officials are also working with local representatives, including Rep. Ron Gray.
“I’m starting conversations with him to see if we can get included in the next state bond bill …,” Rymer said. “As we proceed with that, we’ll also reach out to Sen. Gerald Hocker.”