January 14, 2004

County Council authorized spending $15 million to begin the process of purchasing houses in and relocating residents from the flood-ravished community of Glenville. Meanwhile, work is beginning on engineering study looking for a long-range solution to flooding in the Red Clay Creek watershed.

A resolution introduced by Councilman Robert Woods and passed unanimously at Council's meeting on Jan. 13 is intended to begin the process of clearing most of the Christiana Hundred community, which was almost wiped out by the nor'easter and hurricane in September, as quickly as possible.

The actual appropriation will be made at the next meeting, on Jan. 27, according to Council president Christopher Coons.. That is because that requires an ordinance and ordinances cannot be enacted at the same meeting at which they are introduced.

State government is expected to also put up $15 million, but that cannot actually happen until the General Assembly enacts the annual capital-spending budget in late June. Delaware's congressional delegation reportedly is working to obtain federal money to reimburse state and county governments, but nothing is expected to move forward in that regard until late spring or early summer.

Meanwhile, County Executive Tom Gordon said, residents still living in Glenville and those in other low-lying communities along the Red Clay Creek remain in danger of being hit by another flood-causing

storm. "I don't think we can wait any longer [to] begin moving those people out of harm's way," he told a meeting of a coordinating taskforce of public officials on Jan. 12.

Mark Brainard, Governor Ruth Ann Minner's chief of staff and chairman of the taskforce, agreed. "We can't wait till spring or summer and pray there's not another storm," he said.

Gordon said that, had the nor'easter, which sent a veritable wall of water careening down the Red Clay, hit at night instead of mid-afternoon, there would most certainly have been multiple fatalities.

A dam on Red Clay Creek just upstream from the Kiamensi Road bridge. (Photo courtesy of Duffield Associates)

He added that it is his intention to see that New Castle County's contribution to the buy-out is made available quickly. That could be as soon as seven days after Council acts, he said.

Bill Marino, a Glenville resident, told the taskforce that speed is of the essence. "There are just too many people out there with hardships," he said. "People are paying mortgages for homes they can't live in" and others in the generally blue-collar neighborhood are unemployed or have other adverse family situations. More than half of the 158 houses seriously impacted by the flood are now vacant while their former occupants are renting living space or doubling up with relatives.

Marino added, however, that general sentiment in the community "is that we're pleased with the speed [at which] you're working."

Although there could be some question whether state or federal money will materialize, Coons said he and his colleagues "have a degree of confidence ... that the governor and [county] executive will keep their word" and make the unprecedented buy-out at least a state-county project, if not a federal-state-county one.

State senator Karen Paterson told the taskforce that she has heard of lawmakers who are unenthusiastic about channeling public money to one community. "They're talking about [there having been] flooding in places in Sussex County too," she said. Brainard added that congressmen from other Eastern Seaboard states are competing with Delaware's delegation for federal assistance for communities in their districts which also fell victim to the storms.

What sets the Glenville situation apart from others, Brainard said, is that it involves obvious public health and safety issues. Apart from that, the state has a separate interest in acquiring property in that area. The community lies just north of the confluence of Red Clay and White Clay Creeks and Bread and Cheese Island. That is near where Delaware Department of Transportation will be required to replace wetland that will be lost by the planned widening of the Delaware Turnpike.

Wayne Rizzo, head of DelDOT's real estate section, said the department "is not at a point where we can give a bottom line figure" about how much it will cost to acquire the houses which were either destroyed or nearly destroyed. But he said a previous 'ballpark' estimate that it will run somewhere between $28 million and $34 million is still valid.

That would come down to an average of $177,000 to $215,000 for properties which had an estimated pre-flood market value of about $150,000. The difference, Rizzo explained, lies in relocation costs. Even though DelDOT would buy the properties in a phased sequence, demand for that many houses in that price range coming at about the same time will drive up asking prices if, indeed, there are enough houses available for sale. DelDOT is required by law to provide sufficient money to enable displaced property owners to acquire comparable new housing.

There are another 35 houses in Glenville which were not severely damaged and are not deemed at risk. Their fate is uncertain at this time. Some residents have indicated a desire to remain and Rizzo pointed out that DelDOT cannot justify using its power of eminent domain to force them out.

The long-range study of conditions in its watershed is aimed at taming the Red Clay by such things as removing up to a dozen dams placed in it over many years to channel the stream, according to Kevin Donnelly, director of water resources for the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

A feasibility study to define the scope of what has to be done, he said, could get underway in April or May. He estimated that it will cost between $150,000 and $200,000, jointly sponsored by his department and DelDOT.

Jeff Bross, president of Duffield Associates, a Pike Creek-based consulting firm, said the cooperative response to Glenville's plight and willingness of the government entities involved to expand that to deal with the potential for flooding upstream to the Pennsylvania border and, perhaps, beyond, is something of a fortuitous result of the devastating storms. "There are a lot of opportunities beyond Glenville," he said. "We have the opportunity to provide a much higher level of safety and security/"

Brainard said the focus on Glenville is in response to "a major public safety issue ... [but it] doesn't mean we're forgetting about the other communities."

2004. All rights reserved.

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