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Emergency Undertakings Shed Light on Delaware’s Historic Dikes

The following article appeared in the Jan. 10, 2014 edition of NCSHPO News, an e-news publication of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

The Delaware State Historic Preservation Office (within the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs) worked very closely with Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the New Castle Conservation District, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Philadelphia Region) to bring to successful resolution several very complex, high profile, cases involving the rehabilitation of dikes in and around the City of New Castle. Due to storm damage that had already occurred, and continued threat of future such events to impact private property (including a National Historic Landmark district) and environmental hazards, DNREC was pressed to rebuild and/or extend all the dikes on a highly expedited schedule. Close coordination among state and federal agencies, consultants, and interested members of the public ensured those goals were met, while in compliance with Section 106.

Aerial view of a section of the Broad Marsh Dike.
Aerial view of a section of the Broad Marsh Dike.

Through this process, a historic context was developed against which the dikes were evaluated and found eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The research produced significant insights into this type of historic structure, establishing that dikes are one of the oldest landscape elements on our coast, and that their construction and constant rebuilding in the same location is a tradition that is 350 years old in Delaware. Information on DNREC’s Coastal Resiliency Action Plan for the City of New Castle, and drafts of the cultural resource survey reports are posted on DNREC’s webpage. Monitoring of construction work on the Broad Marsh Dike is scheduled for January 2014, and may yield additional information on this historic structure.

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