Relentless power of the sea threatens Harbor of Refuge lighthouse

The sea is relentless, one of the many planetary mega-forces constantly in play.

We don’t see gravity, but thank goodness it’s there or we’d be flying off this planet into space.

But we feel the winds and see our beaches move back and forth. They are, for us coastal dwellers, some of the most visible forces of nature at work.

Grains of sand move easily, swept by wind and waves. Huge boulders of granite the size of a rock take a little more work. But don’t underestimate the power of water driven by these forces.

Many years ago, a small group of local reporters deployed to Rehoboth Beach in the darkness of a high tide at the height of a storm in the northeast. The northern end of the promenade is one of the most vulnerable sections of the complex in terms of storms interacting with human infrastructure. A good place to take dramatic photographs of storms and their impact.

Breaking waves, lit by swaying streetlamps, coiled lengths of dune fences and tossed them aside like young children sweeping piles of boulders. Then the rising waves blew up a few pieces of the boardwalk near Stuart-Kingston.

Most impressive and frightening for me, however, was the raw display of hydraulic power by the leading edges of the crashing waves lifting up sections of concrete sidewalk 4 feet by 4 8 or 10 inches thick. The incoming waves lifted them; the receding waves brought them back to dry land, but not necessarily to the same place.

The same is happening, albeit under different circumstances and with added dynamics, at the southeast end of the Harbor of Refuge breakwater. Wave action in this harsh coastal environment moves huge stones that are much denser and heavier than porous concrete. The men placed the stones there more than a century ago as the end point of the breakwater and the foundation of the lighthouse at the port of Refuge. The end of this mile-long stone wall is constantly battered by storms from the northeast from which the breakwater was designed to provide shelter for anchored ships. Now he’s giving in.

As the tip of Cape Henlopen continues to grow outward, it has been reported that the gap between it and the end of the breakwater is closing. This narrowing intensifies the scour action of the tidal currents passing between the wall and the point. As the gap deepens, the scour also erodes the seabed foundation on which the stones were placed so long ago. Between erosion and the hydraulic power of the sea, stones move, endangering the future of the lighthouse.

Moulinier Rouge, one of the main volunteer forces for the rehabilitation of the Port du Refuge lighthouse, is starting to lose heart. “We have the lighthouse itself in the best condition it has seen in many years – inside and out. But with the stones starting to move and fall, we could eventually lose it altogether. “

During a recent induction into the Maritime Hall of Fame in Lewes, Moulinier – an inductee from previous years – said he hoped efforts to secure federal funding to preserve the lighthouse would save the iconic structure. But he said he had been informed by Senator Tom Carper’s office that the necessary funding was now off the table. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.

It’s one thing when scour currents threaten vital public infrastructure, as it did before the Indian River Inlet bridge was replaced several years ago. But that’s a whole different case when the threatened infrastructure is a lighthouse from another era that no longer fulfills the essential navigation role it once played.

With so much federal money flowing around, there is no doubt that the lighthouse volunteers will continue to strive for a piece of the pie to help preserve an important piece of Delaware’s maritime history and part of the raffle. out of tourists.

Meanwhile, however, the relentless power of the sea and its lingering scour currents continue to take seconds and minutes before the Port of Refuge Lighthouse – without further assistance – follows the lead of Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. , who succumbed to similar forces. and fell into the sea in 1926.


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