11978 Turkle Pond Rd
Draft Environmental Assessment
For Final Environmental Assessment and news releases, please click here.
Question & Answer
Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 to preserve and protect habitats for migratory birds. Situated along the marshes of the western Delaware Bay, the refuge hosts thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds each year and provides habitat for other species like the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel and bald eagle. Roughly 80 percent of the refuge is a mix of fresh and saltwater wetlands stretching from Slaughter Beach in the north to the Broadkill River in the south.
The Service has released an Environmental Assessment for Dune Restoration on Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Q: What is the Environmental Assessment (EA) and why was it conducted?
A: Several Nor'easter storms in the fall and winter of 2009 created storm surge conditions that overwashed the duneline along the refuge's freshwater marsh (Unit II) south of Fowler Beach Road. A mini-inlet formed that severely eroded the duneline, breaching the freshwater marsh with salt water from the Delaware Bay.
To address this issue, the Service conducted an EA as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The purpose of the EA is to determine the environment impacts of the potential alternatives, address unresolved environmental issues, provide a basis for a decision on the proposal, and facilitate interagency coordination between the Service and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to manage and protect natural and cultural resources.
Q: What does the EA propose?
A: The Service is proposing to scrape sand from overwash areas in Unit II to build up approximately 700 feet of duneline south of Fowler Beach, and fill in recently created inlets, which are partly on refuge lands and partly on private property (Alternative II or the Preferred Alternative). The Preferred Alternative would minimize the impacts of coastal flooding and reduce erosion in the short term. The refuge's comprehensive conservation plan is currently under development and will address long-term management plans at the refuge.
The Preferred Alternative would also allow the repair of dunes on private lands. Under this proposal, sediment scraped from refuge lands would be used to repair approximately 3,200 feet of duneline on private lands connected to the refuge's dune, as needed. Overwash sand from refuge land will also be used to fill in other mini-inlet(s) on private property south of Fowler Beach Road.
Q: Where can the public review the plan?
A: The document is available online at www.fws.gov/northeast/primehook or at the refuge office at 11978 Turkle Pond Rd., Milton, Delaware.
Q: Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the proposal? How?
A: The Service is seeking public comment until August 26, 2010. Comments may be submitted in writing to the refuge or via electronic mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Why did the Service decide in 2008 not to repair the breach in the dune system north of Fowler Beach Road (Unit I)?
A: The Service's decision to allow the northernmost overwash to proceed naturally has rejuvenated the salt marsh in Unit I by allowing sediments to build up in the marsh. This process has been beneficial for marsh birds and other wildlife. In addition, a fully functioning tidal marsh may be better able to defend against sea level rise due to increased sediment build up (accretion).
Based on the best science available, the decision complies with the Service's policies and regulations. This decision is also consistent with how the State of Delaware manages their lands. The State's 1988 Ocean Beach Management Plan stipulates that undeveloped State land "shall be managed to allow for natural movement of the shoreline."
Q: Historically, the Service maintained dunes and repaired breaches on refuge and private land. Why has it now decided to not do work on private land?
A: Until recently, the refuge has worked with the State to contribute towards the maintenance of beach front dunes south of Fowler Beach Road on both Service and private lands (with private landowner permissions). Originally, the need for such maintenance occurred every 10 years or so and was limited to overwash areas. However, the recent barrage of intense storms occurring in three of the last four years prompted staff to re-assess the situation. The increasingly intense storms have resulted in greater damage and the formation of inlets along with overwashes. In addition, it is not appropriate to expend federal funds to enhance private lands without a formal agreement demonstrating benefit to the federal government.
Q: Why weren't the recent breaches immediately repaired?
A: While the Service considers the situation a very serious concern, we believe the best way to successfully address the issue is through an exhaustive review of the potential environmental impacts of the different options as required by NEPA. The Service is sincerely committed to working with the Primehook community to address their immediate concerns. We believe the best way to successfully accomplish this is by complying with all NEPA requirements, Service policies, and other applicable laws and regulations.
Q: Was the severity and frequency of flooding in 2009 a direct result of the refuge's decision to allow the overwashes to proceed naturally in Unit I, the northernmost tidal salt marsh?
A: No single factor can be attributed to the increased flooding in the area. In 2009, storm events increased in frequency and intensity and were associated with extreme high tides that played a significant role regarding flooding. These events are unrelated to the overwash in Unit 1.
Q: Is the flooding during storm events impacting adjacent agricultural lands?
A: Flooding of some areas of adjacent farmland has been a long-term problem, which predates the 2006 overwash in Unit I. Moreover, salt water intrusion and flooding are common phenomena on many coastal Delaware farms. The Service does not believe flooding of adjacent agricultural lands is a direct result of the 2006 overwash in Unit I.
Q: Were the marshes in Units I and IV always salt marsh? How do we know this?
A: The marshes that now comprise Units I and IV have always been salt marshes. Real estate documents, soil records from the 1970s and the presence of hayed salt marsh grass all confirm that these areas have always been salt marshes with a full tidal range.
Q: How did the algae bloom develop in the fresh water impoundments?
A: Algae blooms occur in many natural systems. They are the result of a combination of biological factors. The refuge is working with our partners to determine the cause of this year's event.
Q: What are the long-term plans and goals of the refuge as they relate to dune management and breach repairs?
A: A complete analysis of the refuge's long-term plans will be addressed in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). The CCP is currently under development and will outline multiple, large-scale and long-term factors that contribute to habitat management decision over the next 15 years.
The CCP will address impoundment and shoreline management in further detail and will contain long-term strategies to manage wildlife while considering the impacts to the surrounding community. The refuge will analyze new information and re-assess refuge management options through the CCP and post-CCP planning process. The draft CCP will be available for public review and comment later in 2010.