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BETHANY BEACH — As Memorial Day approaches, visitors are again returning to the coast.
Most Delaware beaches have plenty of sand, and many are set to get even more thanks to recent and upcoming replenishment projects, said Tony Pratt, shoreline administrator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“The condition is fairly good for recreational use this summer,” he said, noting many years ago, several of the beaches would be entering this time of year with “only a few feet of sand” between the dunes and the water.
He said with more replenishment work coming this fall, the beaches are set to be in good shape for a while — as long as no monster storms wash the sand away.
Bringing more good news, he said larger gravel brought by a renourishment project in 2005 had been carried north by currents and was now mostly scattered in the waters off Cape Henlopen.
Pratt said until recently he had been expecting budget struggles to keep the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from doing much replenishment after this fiscal year, which ends in September. But he heard recently that Delaware was “very fortunate to get a considerable amount of money” to go ahead with replenishment efforts.
In Bethany, he said a spring replenishment has plenty of sand on the beach, while South Bethany is also in fairly good condition, with more sand due in the fall. Rehoboth, Dewey and Lewes are also set to get more sand after the summer, but Kent Buckson, captain of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol, said the beach is already nice and wide.
He said the dunes were a little smaller after previous work on the beach and different placement of the dune fences had left the beach a bit wider than before.
This summer, only Fenwick will have replenishment efforts that affect the beginning of the beach season, Pratt said. With work set to be done there in June, many business owners are angry the replenishment is getting done while people will be on the beach.
“They will close off the area where they are working and move on as soon as they can,” Pratt said. “They’ll move about a block and a half a day. It might be closed in front of you for a day, but you can see the work coming.”
Buckson said replenishment projects could change wave breaks and enlarge guarding areas, but patrols were used to adapting to new conditions. Lt. Ward Kovacs of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said rough winter seas usually evened out the steeper slopes caused by replenishment.
While waters are still cold, dangerously so for inexperienced swimmers, Kovacs said he had seen a few people already in the water. With no lifeguards on the stands until Saturday, Kovacs said a recent struggling swimmer was lucky to have been saved by patrol members who happened to be surfing in the area and doing maintenance on stands.
“They didn’t have very long,” Kovacs said. “Had the lifeguards not been there, they probably wouldn’t have made it.”
He said the cold waters mean struggling swimmers lose energy much faster and he strongly discouraged beachgoers from entering the water without guards on duty. Noting the water temperature was higher last summer than he had seen in recent years, he said it should be gradually getting warmer from here on out.
City Engineer Terry McGean said replenishment projects that finished in Ocean City around Christmas 2010 had left the beach in good condition for the summer.
Like other Delaware and Maryland beach communities, he said the Veteran’s Day storm of 2009 had brought the need for most of the recent work. In addition to other emergency sand replenishment, he said much of the lost sand had been washed back to shore naturally, reducing expenditures on scheduled replenishment during the winter.
“It’s a lot wider,” he said, noting the winter replenishment had pumped some 900,000 cubic yards of sand back onto the beach.
McGean said Assateague beaches were also in fairly good condition. He said twice a year, the Currituck, a vessel owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, brings sand from the Ocean City Inlet down to Assateague, mimicking the way sand used to flow naturally.