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DNREC replacing dune line

This section of dune between the Sussex Shores community and its private beach was restored this week by DNREC after a property owner allegedly contracted to have the area leveled, reportedly for improved beach access, a better view and landscaping design.

Posted on June 17, 2024

The Sussex Shores Homeowners Association operates and maintains a private beach in North Bethany. Over the past two weeks, through someone’s action and in violation of state law, a dune line there was excavated, sand was removed, and the sand was levelled to improve the view and beach area access for the property owners, according to a homeowner and DNREC officials.

Now, Sussex Shores may face $200 in fines for breaking through the coastal sand dune (per incident) up to a maximum of $5,000 for the level of damage and cost to rebuild it, according to DNREC natural resources police.

DNREC workers spent two days last week, including labor and equipment, repairing the dunes at taxpayer expense, and the dunes have now been restored. However, the dune-grass plantings and root system that holds a dune line together will take many more months to grow and repair the ecosystem. It could take years to regain their strength as a defensive barrier and nature’s last stand against coastal flooding.

“”The dune is currently being remediated with oversight from the DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management Section,” said Michael Globetti, a DNREC spokesman. “The work is not completed, since DNREC requires that the dune be planted, which is scheduled this week. There also is an ongoing DNREC enforcement investigation into potential violations that may have occurred, which precludes further comment from the Department at this time.”

“I am waiting for the HOA president to return home to give us the recourse and the course correction,” said John Neff, a longtime Sussex Shores resident and president of Total Moisture Control.

Alexander “Xandy” Waesche is the president of the Sussex Shores Owner’s Association. He was traveling and not available for comment. DNREC noted that individuals and HOAs can be held responsible for damage to coastal dunes.

“They dug the sand, hauled it away privately, and our HOA documents say you cannot even dig a hole here in Sussex Shores,” Neff said. “It’s a heavy fine for somebody. The question I have for the State is that these ‘fly-by-night contractors’ come in and take away the sand,” said Neff. “The State needs to enforce loss of our dunes by private crews.”

“The beach here is private, and it was once owned by a single family,” noted Neff. “But we still need to follow the rules and dunes issues with DNREC. It’s hard to get a bench or handicap ramp installed, but then we allow the dune lines to be disturbed.”

“I am not sure what the [perpetrator] was thinking here,” he said. “The same situation happened a block away, where they were ripping up the dune. So, it’s becoming a habit, and we are seeing this mess, which DNREC then must come and repair.”

“The state environmental person overseeing the issue, who is the DNCRE supervisor, asked the owners if they are staying within their property line,” according to Neff. DNREC officials confirmed it did not provide permission. “The owners were interested in landscaping the dune, and they had the wrong grasses — not the kind that hold the dune together. Once you destroy the root system, you need to re-plant the dune grass. There should be some dune fence to control this dune.”

“I live in Sussex Shores. My family has been here since the 1950s. I came here in the 1960s and all through the summers every year. I moved here full time in 1975,” said Neff. “I came back to Sussex Shores in the 1990s. This house has been in our family for 75 years.”

Sussex Shores recently completed building a new guard house, or lifeguard shack, with Owen Smith helping to build and supervise the construction work. He started as a lifeguard in Bethany Beach back in 1977 and provided guard duty for nearly 40 years. There are 15 people serving on the Sussex Shores beach patrol, he said.

DNREC workers have been putting in effort and time to restore the dune line at Sussex Shores.

“DNREC was here repairing that dune for two days, and they brought in a couple of bulldozers to smooth the sand and a bobcat to bring the sand back to level,” said Smith. “They tapered it back to the natural flow, back to its original elevation point.”

Natural Resources Police referred Coastal Point to state statutes:

• Delaware Land Protection Act Title 7 Section 9 — protects and conserves natural and cultural resources, including plant and animal habitats, and parks, forests and wildlife areas;

• Delaware Code 23 — Delaware law prohibits removing sand from public or private beaches between Rehoboth and the Maryland state line, including beaches that extend from the mean high watermark to the Ocean Highway. This includes digging, mining, removing, or carrying away sand;

“The authority of the Department to prevent and repair damages from erosion shall extend to privately owned beaches whenever, in the judgment of the Governor, a dangerous condition constituting an emergency exists in a location specified by the Governor.”

“Before taking any action with respect to a privately owned beach, the Department shall, whenever practicable, give reasonable notice to the owner thereof that a condition of potential emergency must be corrected, and wait a reasonable period of time for the owner to correct the matter. If the owner does not correct the matter, the Department shall do so. The owner shall be liable for all expenses incurred by the Department in correcting a condition of potential emergency.”

• Title 7 Section 6807 on penalties — “Whoever, without authority from the Department, alters, moves or carries away any substantial amount of beach material (including, but not limited to, sand or pebbles), or alters, damages or destroys any groin, jetty, bank, dike, dune, bulkhead, seawall, breakwater or any other facility, improvement or structure installed or maintained by the Department for the enhancement, preservation or protection of the beach, shall be liable for a civil penalty imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of not less than $200 nor more than $5,000 for each completed violation. If the violation has been completed and there is a substantial likelihood that it will recur or if it is a continuing violation, the Department may also seek a permanent or preliminary injunction.”

Bethany Beach Mayor Rosemary Hardiman emphasized this week that the infraction and dune destruction occurred in North Bethany, in an unincorporated community, and not in Bethany Beach.

“This dune violation did not occur in the Town of Bethany Beach but was in North Bethany, and is governed by Sussex County rules and by DNREC. It’s not in the town — it’s in the county.”

“The coastal flooding in Bethany is partly because you are building these homes on every square inch of land,” Neff added. “If you watch the ocean flow, it’s amazing how the dune holds back the flooding. The dune grass holds very well and stops the ocean from going into the streets. The grasses need to be there to stabilize those dunes.”

During nor’easters and the remnants of hurricanes passing through the area, water was lapping into the houses in Sussex Shores, said the homeowner.

“But the dunes have held, and the bushes and plants have been part of the protection. The dunes are there for our neighborhood but also for Route 1 safety and protection.”

“We need these dunes to be restored. I know you want a nice view, but you cannot just take them away. The dune structure is paramount to providing a safe environment, and we want to stabilize the area.”


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