Posted Jan. 8, 2008
Federal 2008 Budget Includes $$ To Start Breakwater
Thanks to persistent efforts by Delaware's congressional
delegation, the crumbling breakwater under Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse is
about to get some long-anticipated repairs.
caisson in 1908
caisson in 2007
Lead by US Sen. Tom Carper in the Senate and US Rep. Mike Castle in the House, with support from US Sen. Joe Biden, initial funding
for the much-needed work is now available and waiting to be spent.
Sen. Carper announced the funding at a press conference
Jan. 8 in the dining room of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal where
attendees could look out across the harbor and see the lighthouse perched
astride the massive breakwater.
Rep. Castle; Lewes Mayor Jim Ford; Major Patricia Arcari,
Deputy Commander for Philadelphia District Army Corp of Engineers; the
Corps' Harbor of Refuge project manager Charles Myers; Delaware River
& Bay Lighthouse Foundation President Judith Roales and other members
of the Foundation board; and Larry Sharp of Delaware River & Bay
Authority were on hand for the event.
Why it matters
Sen. Carper spoke about the significance of the breakwater
and the lighthouse in Delaware's history and of their importance in the
present-day tourist economy of Lewes and Sussex County. The
breakwater is also a key part of the National Harbor of Refuge Historic
District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, he said.
The district, 24.300 acres in size, includes both Harbor of Refuge
breakwater and the older Delaware Breakwater, Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse,
Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse, all the other navigational lights
on the two breakwaters, the anchorage behind the breakwaters, and the old
lifesaving station now used as a headquarters by the pilots association.
Sen. Carper praised Foundation members for their work in
preserving the lighthouse and their efforts to bring attention to the
condition of the breakwater.
He pointed out that the original purpose of the breakwater
was to provide a safe harbor where up to a thousand sailing ships could be
protected during storms. It saved many lives and fortunes in
maritime cargo. But today, Rep. Castle added, it protects the Sussex
shoreline from the ferry terminal south to the tip of Cape Henlopen.
A breach in the breakwater could cause serious environmental changes, he
This year's funding -- $343,461 -- goes to the Army Corps
of Engineers, which owns and maintains the breakwater. It will pay
for a serious study of problems at the breakwater, the development of
plans, and (with luck) some actual work to protect the lighthouse, according to Myers. Myers
and Foundation members will meet within the next few weeks to get the
The mile-and-half long breakwater was built by the Army
Corps of Engineers between 1897 and 1901. "In spite of the
breakwater's current problems, the fact that it's 110 years old tells you
something about the quality of the Corps' work," Roales told the
gathering. "It's remarkable that there's anything there at all
given the harsh location at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and
History of the
The lighthouse sits on the southern
end of the breakwater. When the first Harbor of Refuge
Lighthouse was constructed there in 1906-1908, rock was excavated from the
breakwater to a depth of 15 feet and the iron caisson was sunk into the
breakwater hole. Cement was poured around the outside of the
caisson, and rip-rap was piled atop that. The lighthouse was built
on the caisson. In 1926, after the old lighthouse was destroyed by storms,
the current lighthouse was built on the same caisson foundation. In
the late 1930s a concrete "collar" was constructed on top of the breakwater to
lighthouse and further stabilize it as
the breakwater began to deteriorate. A Corps study in 1970
documented more deterioration but concluded that a "shelf" of
the breakwater still existed and was protecting the lighthouse.
In 2004, the Corps conducted a side scan sonar
study of the breakwater around the lighthouse and determined that a serious number
of cap stones from the breakwater had been washed to the bottom of the
bay, as much as 120 deep in spots. The Corps estimated that repairs
could cost from $1.5 million to $10 million. The lower estimate will
solve the problem if the stones are just being washed from the top of the
breakwater. The higher estimate will be required if the stones are
falling from the top because the bottom of the breakwater is washing
This year's funding will allow the Corps to identify the basic problem
and develop plans for a solution. The congressional delegation has
asked for an answer and estimated funding requirement by May so that money
for actual work can be requested in the next federal budget cycle.