There is new hope for resolution of a bureaucratic problem that has made beach replenishment more expensive and difficult in Stone Harbor and Avalon.
Congressman Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, asked U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for help in allowing the towns to dredge sand from Hereford Inlet for beach replenishment projects, rather than going farther away and spending millions more.
“We will work with you,” said Bernhardt, after hearing Van Drew’s concerns at a recent House Natural Resources Committee hearing. “We will absolutely work with you.”
Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour welcomed the exchange.
Her municipality felt it had to opt out of this year’s Army Corps of Engineers replenishment project with Avalon because of uncertainties over the cost of moving sand from farther-away Townsends Inlet, and because of a lack of sufficient sand there for use by both communities.
“We do have hope, especially now we see the congressman is being so proactive,” said Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour.
Since 2016, the communities have not been able to use sand from Hereford Inlet for federally funded beach replenishment, because the inlet is part of protected areas under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.
The act is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Interior Department.
In 1996, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service started granting exceptions to allow federal funds to be used to dredge sand from Hereford Inlet, but it reversed that decision in 2016 under the Obama Administration.
A Fish & Wildlife spokesman said a federal attorney has determined sand can only be mined from a protected area to be used for shoreline stabilization in another protected area. He said previous permission was based on using sand to protect areas within the CBRA system, so no reversal of position has occurred.
The inlet is part of the protected area, while Seven Mile Island, home to Stone Harbor and Avalon, is not.
But a spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Army Corps of Engineers said dredged sand from Hereford Inlet was used on three previous occasions in Stone Harbor with the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including initial dune construction of in 2009 and two times under the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies program in 2011 and 2013.
One of the exceptions allowed is protection of life and property in an emergency, under the Federal Flood Insurance Act of 1968.
The act, passed in 1982, is supposed to prevent federal dollars from encouraging development in undeveloped coastal regions. Hereford Inlet was added in 1990, according to Fish & Wildlife.
Seven Mile Island is already developed, and the beach projects are designed to prevent loss of life and property during storms and floods.
“We are thrilled the congressman has taken up this cause for us in D.C.,” Davies-Dunhour said. “We are working with Avalon and North Wildwood to see if we can have a resolution that benefits the environment and the taxpayer.”
The reversal forced Stone Harbor to forego federal funding during its most recent beach project, increasing costs to taxpayers by millions, the mayor said.
Previous replenishment projects using sand from Hereford Inlet greatly built up Stone Harbor Point at the south end of the island, protecting the coastline from storm damage and creating more than a mile of habitat at Stone Harbor Point for migratory birds, Van Drew said.
The area grew because sand migrated from where it was placed further north in Avalon and Stone Harbor, he said.
While Stone Harbor will skip this year’s beach nourishment project unless something changes quickly at the federal level, Davies-Dunhour said the borough fared well in the last beach survey.
It will move some sand from about 112th Street to areas that need it, the mayor said.
“In the meantime, we hope Mother Nature will be kinder,” she said.