Delaware receives federal funding to repair winter storm damage

High winds and water broke through this dune and caused other damage at the Delaware beaches on  January 22-24.(Chuck Snyder/for NewsWorks)

High winds and water broke through this dune and caused other damage at the Delaware beaches on January 22-24.(Chuck Snyder/for NewsWorks)

Delaware will receive federal funding to repair damages in its beach towns caused by this year’s winter storm.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama ordered federal aid, providing about $350,000 for Delaware to support recovery efforts in areas effected by January’s snowstorm and flooding. 

“As Delawareans, especially those in Sussex County, know, the storm packed a devastating punch and many Delawareans are still struggling from the effects of flood damage,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said in a statement. 

Delaware’s beaches faced heavy wind, rain and snow during January’s winter storm. The conditions caused damage to about a block of boardwalk in Rehoboth and Cape Henlopen State Park’s walking trails, and the beaches also suffered sand loss.

For the most part, the state, businesses and residents said they fared well, and there was no major infrastructure damage. Besides the one block of damage, the Rehoboth boardwalk reopened about a week later. The state and others credited sand dunes to the limited amount of damage.

However, the state said there still was significant costly damage in Sussex County. Cape Henlopen Park received damage to its boardwalk leading to the Bath House, the Bath House also was in need of repair and materials washed away from the trails. The trails closed while repairs took place.

“The Obama Administration’s approval of this declaration will enable Delaware to make repairs to outdoor infrastructure damaged by the winter storm, and will require only limited state funding so that we can continue to make appropriate investments in other infrastructure – and for completing repairs from storm damage in time for the opening of our traditional outdoors activities,” said Secretary David Small of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Part of the funding will be used as reimbursement for the cost of repair on the trails, Small said. The funding also will be used to repair the block of boardwalk on Rehoboth and portions of the Rehoboth Beach storm water outfalls.

“We had some damage, it was not enormous, but it was enough to trigger a declaration and it will be helpful,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware.

The federal funding also means the State won’t have to reallocate funds in its tight budget, he said.

“The state is facing real budgetary challenges, the rising costs of Medicaid especially, and we’re going to see some drop off in revenue for the DuPont/Dow merger,” Carper said.

“So the state doesn’t have money laying around to provide to local government or invest in Cape Henlopen State Park or invest in the boardwalk repairs at Rehoboth, the state doesn’t have money laying around to deploying the National Guard.”

Last month Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, wrote to Pres. Obama about the damage caused by the storm, which called for a State of Emergency and the deployment of emergency crews.

“While preventive steps like dune restoration helped prevent more serious harm, we know this storm caused significant disruptions to our citizens beyond its immediate aftermath and I am grateful to the Obama Administration for their support in helping our communities fully recover,” the governor said in a statement.

The appropriated funding will be available to the state, some local governments and certain non-profits on a cost-sharing basis for repair work in Sussex County.

Non-profits eligible for the funds include those that provide necessary services to the public, and can ask its local and state governments on information on how to apply to FEMA.

Federal funding also is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

The costs of Delaware National Guard and Delaware State Police deployments to Sussex County during the storm may also be recovered under the federal disaster declaration.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said funding for other projects may be made at a later date if requested by the state and deemed necessary following additional damage assessments.

Ocean beach projects aren’t eligible for this funding, but Small said the State is “cautiously optimistic” it will be able to receive funding to restore sand.

Carper has been an advocate for beach replenishment projects and is pushing more funding for sand replacement. He said Delaware will work with other states and the Army Corp of Engineers to put together a plan to prepare for the next storm.

Carper added it’s important not only to address the affects of storms, but also the root cause of storm-related damage.

“The root cause is sea level is rising and a number of states on the east coast are very susceptible for sea level rise,” he said. “While it’s important for us to rebuilt dune structures and replenish beaches it’s also important for us as a nation to produce policies that reduce sea level rise.”  

In the meantime, the funding that is currently available will provide support to the state. Congressman John Carney said in a statement the funding will “save lives and protect critical property and infrastructure along Delaware’s coast.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.