November 14, 2002

Further development of Fox Point State Park will have to await resolution of a dispute over who pays how much to clean up the former industrial-development site on which it is located, top officials of the state system told area civic leaders.

The Division of Parks & Recreation is "committed to the full development of the facility," according to Charles Salkin, its director. But, he added, "until [the dispute] is resolved, even our best intentions are not going to get us very far."

It apparently is anybody's guess when that resolution is going to occur so that a second and eventual third phase of park development can proceed.

Leaders of the Fox Point Association, the 'umbrella' civic group which has been prime mover in an effort to secure a park on the bank of the Delaware River between Edgemoor and Claymont, and others with interests in eastern Brandywine Hundred, including two legislators from the area, vented equally strong objection to and frustration about that situation at a meeting on Nov. 12.

"Seven years have gone by [since the first section of the park was opened]. How many more years are going to go by before we get it done?" said John Yaschur III, who convened the meeting.

The dispute actually has been running for considerably longer than that. It predates by a considerable margin the cleanup which permitted the opening to happen in the spring of 1995.

Alex Rittberg, a Division of Air & Waste Management branch program manager, later told Delaforum that "very complicated negotiations" involving the division and three parties deemed legally responsible for the pollution on the site are underway looking to achieve a consensus agreement. The parties are New Castle County and Wilmington governments and American Premier Underwriters, an insurance company which represents the corporate successor to the long-defunct Penn Central Railroad.

Penn Central originally sought to create land between its Washington-to-New York tracks and the river to extend the industrial area around the Du Pont Co.'s Edgemoor plant northward to provide

additional customers for its freight lines. The fill used to reclaim the land reportedly was slag and other material the railroad hauled in from steel plants. The project ended when the railroad went bankrupt. Amtrak, which now owns the tracks and right-of-way as part of
its Northeast Corridor system, did not get involved.

Rittberg said the talks are hung up on an objection by the insurance company to pay for a cleanup of the type required to permit use of the land for a public park. It argues that the site was not a park in the past and, therefore, the company should not have to pay to let it

John Yaschur (left), of the Fox Point Association, takes notes as Mark Chura, of the Division of Parks & Recreation, explains features of a possible plan for development of a second section of Fox Point State Park

become one in the future, he said.

He confirmed that the company has not only balked at paying to clean up a second section of the designated parkland but also has not reimbursed the state for any portion of the cost of environmental remediation required for the existing first section. While that would seem to indicates negotiations are at an impasse, Rittberg said "there is not currently any litigation" nor present intention to move the issue into a court.

The involved divisions are both units of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control. The parks officials said the divisions are cooperating with each other on the matter.

While both Salkin and Mark Chura, the Division of Parks & Recreation official with responsibility for park development, assured attenders at the meeting that they are ready to move toward extending the park northward to the point at the mouth of Stoney Creek from which it takes its name, they also indicated that does not presently hold a priority.

"We have other projects -- like Blue Ball -- that are taking pretty much of our time," Salkin said.

Chura displayed a possible Fox Point Park development plan, which was produced by a consultant three years ago but has not been disseminated to the general public and has received only limited private showings. He explained that it incorporates most of the features previously discussed in community meetings -- including a marina, fishing piers, walkways, gardens and a connection under the train tacks, Interstate 495 and Governor Printz Boulevard to the Caufiel extension of Bellevue State Park -- but added a disclaimer. "We are not advocating aggressively moving forward with the plan at this time."

He said there is a desire, however, to obtain a community consensus on features of the plan so that it would be in a near-final stage when the cleanup dispute is resolved. At this stage, he added, doing that would have to be outside the formal public hearing process.

Chura later explained to Delaforum that the steps to be taken are dispute resolution, plan approval, remediation, park development.

It was obvious at the meeting that the state's unfavorable budget situation does not make this a propitious time to seek backing for a major new project. "You are not going to find an extra $2 million or $3 million lying around for anything [at] any time in the very near future," state Representative David Ennis quipped.

Pressed for an estimate of how much building to the plan he displayed would cost, Chura said the consultants pegged that at between $9 million and $11 million in 1999. That has probably risen to the neighborhood of $12 million to $13 million now, he said. Those figures do not include cleanup costs.

Ennis noted that "it never was intended" that the state bear the full burden of financing the park. For instance, he sees the marina, for which he has been a strong advocate, being financed by private commercial investment.

Yaschur suggested that the $9.8 million in state capital funds earmarked to build an aquatic center on Philadelphia Pike across from Bellevue Corporate Center, be 'redirected' to Fox Point State Park if a State Budget Office report due in January recommends abandoning that project.

Ennis, who also has been a long-time advocate of the swimming facility, strenuously objected. "It's not a question of an aquatic center or a park. I believe we should make both happen," he said, adding that Brandywine Hundred "has not gotten the same share of [state] investment that other [areas] have." The amounts provided in that area pale in comparison with what has been spent, for instance, on development of the Christina River waterfront in Wilmington, he said.

State Senator Harris McDowell said that political reality makes shifting allocations impossible anyway, but said that piecemeal development of an expanded park would be a practical approach. "Instead of talking about Phase Two, why not start with [Phase] One-point-Two -- maybe a road? It makes it easier to do bits and pieces, instead of trying to get the whole park plan accomplished at once," he said.

Chris Koyste, president of the Fox Point Association, said that building the connector under the railroad and roads might be a logical first step because that would not require any environment remediation while using it to accommodate a link in the Northern Delaware Greenway would open the way to receiving federal alternate-transportation financing.

There appeared to be general agreement at the meeting that the plan Chura displayed would be favorably received by community interests.

Chura told the meeting that obtaining a consensus and  having a plan available when the cleanup dispute is resolved would move the project ahead more quickly.

Remediation required in the area designated as the second section will not have to be as extensive as in the first, he said. There an impermeable plastic liner was installed under a new surface. Salkin said a "clean and green" -- clean topsoil and plantings -- approach would be sufficient in that less contaminated area.

It would not be wise for the state to move ahead with a cleanup absent an agreement over who will pay and then seek reimbursement, as was done for the first phase using 'Superfund' money. Doing that "just reduces the chances [that] you'll ever get paid," he said.

2002. All rights reserved.

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