Winter storm eats away at Delaware beaches
This weekend’s blizzard dropped more than a foot of snow in some places across Delaware, but along the coast, high winds whipped up an ocean frenzy, devouring First State sand dunes.
Large waves still crashed onto Rehoboth Beach Monday morning, but with nowhere near as much force as they had over the weekend.
The northern edge of the boardwalk here is a sheer drop to the beach below in some places, with sand covering the wooden walkway. Piles of twisted fence planks lay below.
DNREC’s shoreline and waterway management administrator Tony Pratt says the dunes did their job.
“In this storm, we’re talking about sand loss rather than what we used to talk about 10, 15 years ago which is boardwalk loss, buildings, infrastructure that was lost, roads being ripped up, sewer lines exposed, power lines down, things of that nature. So we understand this is a sacrifice,” Pratt said.
Sustained winds of nearly 50 miles per hour and even stronger gusts pushed the ocean into the boardwalk.
“I’ve been on the boardwalk for many hurricane drive-bys in my 48 years that I’ve lived down here and I can tell you the winds were just as strong as anything [while] I’ve ever been down here," said House Speaker and beach area Democrat Pete Schwartzkopf. "It actually made me stop and rethink what I was doing down here.”
Schwartzkopf said wind gusts began rocking his Jeep SUV enough to where he felt it slightly lift off the ground, signaling to him it was time to go home.
An October storm had already pierced Bethany Beach’s protective dunes, with significant flooding from this storm rolling into neighborhoods.
“We’re very vulnerable at this point. Obviously, the defenses are really low. We’ve been hit very hard by this storm. This is a storm which, when we gather the numbers together, will prove to be one of the top five storms in the last many decades,” Pratt said.
Rehoboth and Dewey beaches are already scheduled for taxpayer funded beach replenishment projects this year, but Bethany Beach might have to wait its turn until next year.
Still, despite the cost, Sen. Tom Carper (D), who was surveying the damage Monday, says the millions of dollars spent on building up the high mounds of sand are well worth it.
“We’re going to spend money on the dunes and that’s a lot better than spending money to replace all these buildings and the hotels and the restaurants and the sewer systems and the roads and so forth.”
Pratt says his crews are still waiting to assess damage at the bay beaches, which were cut off by high water during the storm.
A price tag will likely be unknown until at least next week, he says.