Prime Hook Officials Want to Turn Freshwater Marshes Back to Ori - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Prime Hook Officials Want to Turn Freshwater Marshes Back to Original State

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MILTON, Del. (WBOC) - This week the US Department of the Interior announced Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge would get $20 million of a $162 million pie for restoration projects along the Atlantic coast. The goal is to protect the areas from the effects of powerful future storms.

Earlier this year, the refuge got about $19 million for beach restoration to help deal with flooding issues. The new money is for the marshes. The wetland is an area that's been surrounded in controversy since storms started opening breaches, allowing saltwater to flow into freshwater parts of Prime Hook. Now, the refuge has a plan for the future and the money to make it happen.

It was back in the 1980s when the Fish and Wildlife Service created a 4,000-acre freshwater impoundment at Prime Hook.

"We're going to try to restore it back to its natural state," said Art Coppola, Prime Hook Refuge manager.

Coppola says it was a nice effort, but events of the recent past have shown long term it can't stand up to mother nature.

"It has proven to not be resilient and hold up with sea-level rise and the storms that have hit the coast here in the past,"

"What we want to do is put in a system that's sustainable, resilient and be long-term," said Al Rizzo, Refuge complex project leader. "So, the taxpayers get their money's worth in the long term."

Rizzo says turning the impoundment back largely to saltwater, with a small area of freshwater near where Prime Hook Creek dumps into the marshes, is the concept hydrological engineering has led officials to.

Brian Williams, from Trap, Md., has hunted here for a few years.

"It's still decent hunting here," he said. "But it's a shadow of what it was just a few years ago - since the saltwater intrusion.

He had a good day out on the water Friday. But Williams worries about the impact on waterfowl of moving back to mainly saltwater.

"They spent all the money years to make this a freshwater impoundment. I think they should spend The money to maintain it."

Rizzo says that continues to leave the marshes vulnerable to storms and potential saltwater intrusions. He realizes there's a lot of passion around this issue and the refuge. Rizzo says is anxious to discuss the concepts for the refuge with the public and is hoping to set up meetings potentially in Milton and/or Milford as soon as this upcoming week.

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