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DNREC funds help coastal towns study risks from sea level rise

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Eli Chen/Delaware Public Media
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The DNREC grants will fund studies on projects similar to this one, which took place in the Lewes-Rehoboth canal back in April.

DNREC has awarded about $75,000 to seven Delaware towns facing sea level rise and flooding due to climate change.

The money will help the cities and towns of New Castle, Laurel, Seaford, Milton, Lewes, South Bethany and Little Creek study ways in which they're vulnerable to climate change and rising waters -- and ways they can adapt to them.

Little Creek is using $30,000 -- half coming from a local match -- to update their comprehensive plan, as they do every decade. But this time, Mayor Glenn Gauvry says they want predictions about climate change to be a part of it.

"A coastal community like Little Creek that's only a few miles from the bay and basically butts up against a marsh area, wetlands area, has always had some level of flooding," Gauvry says. "We have seen, in the last 10 years, the level of flooding increase in particular in a couple key spots."

He's hoping the DNREC funds will help them figure out specifically why that's happening and how best to plan the town around it. And putting that in their comprehensive plan will make it easier to get more money for flooding issues down the road.

"Coastal flooding is one of those issues that were not as high on the radar 10 years ago, but they certainly are now," Gauvry says. "So we want to make sure that as our town moves forward, that we've got a keen eye on what we think is going to happen as a result of these changes in our environment."

And he says they want to look at ways to take advantage of the rising Little River, rather than being "victimized" by it. That could include revamping the waterfront and trying to attract new businesses.

Meanwhile, Seaford is honing in on a specific piece of infrastructure they know is already vulnerable to rising waters -- their wastewater treatment plant.

"What we're looking forward to in our next expansion is, should we be looking at floodproofing certain structures or doing other protective measures to prepare for sea level rise, which we believe will occur over the next several decades to millennia that we believe that investment in infrastructure will still be viable through," Seaford says.

Anderson says the plant has sat along the Nanticoke River since the 1950s, when the environment was much different. But they're hoping it can stay there into the future.

"You have to be part of the environment, you have to adapt to the environment, and I think that's one of these things that the grant will tell us," Anderson says.

Seaford is getting $5,500 from the state and putting in another $5,500 of its own to study how to make those upgrades. They expect to have a report done by January, for use in planning expansions over the next several years.

Other projects include Broad Creek waterfront revitalization and stormwater management in Laurel -- which is getting the biggest share of the DNREC money -- $25,000. New Castle is looking to create a living shoreline in the Battery Park waterfront. Lewes plans to study emergency evacuation routes.

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