may do more damage than we should if we don't think this
through," he warned in a strongly-worded appeal to defer what he
called "a well-intentioned rush" to respond to cries from
constituents in several communities southwest of Wilmington for
county government to provide remedial action to remedy
situations which contributed to the natural disaster and
alleviate some of the financial hardship of its most severely
Council and the executive administration does so, Coons said,
"we are expanding the scope of county responsibility
dramatically [and will] open up a whole new range of commitments
and raise expectations."
Council could vote at its Dec. 21 session on an ordinance which
would transfer $17 million in the current capital budget into
what it describes as "a stormwater mitigation project." The
money previously had been earmarked for unspecified acquisitions
of parkland and other land.
latest draft of a list of "proposed drainage and flood abatement
capital improvement projects" prepared by the Department of
Special Services and dated Dec. 7, brings to 30 the number of
individual projects. They include $3.9 million to buy and
demolish seven townhouses in Glendale and replace them with a
drainage pond, $2 million to buy and demolish seven houses in
Newkirk Estates, and a $150,000 buyout of one property in Duross
Despite Coons's plea, Councilman Timothy Sheldon introduced the
measure at the Dec. 7 session and indicated that he intends to
bring it to a vote, as is customary with most ordinances, a
fortnight after introduction. "One of the things I wanted to do
is getting the county rolling," he said. Sheldon is one of eight
new Council members.
Delaforum previously reported, Council president Paul Clark, who
is one of those newly elected, previously voiced strong support
for Sheldon's initiative.
Council were to enact the ordinance on Dec. 21, there would be
time for outgoing County Executive Tom Gordon to sign it into
law before Coons succeeds him on Jan. 4. Gordon reportedly is
supportive of a buyout of the damaged properties that are listed
and has advocated several flooding-control measures.
next scheduled Council meeting will be Jan. 11 and it would be
up to Coons to complete action on the measure if the ordinance
were passed then. While observers believe it is doubtful he
would want to veto a piece of major legislation at the beginning
of his administration, they point out that putting the money in
the right place in the capital budget is not the same thing as
spending it and the executive is the ultimate authority with
regard to timing of actions by county departments.
only four of the 30 projects, which account for about 12% of the
total cost, involve work that falls within county government's
legal obligations, Joseph Freebery, general manager of the
Department of Special Services, said that he regards the
proposed ordinance as both providing money and "giving us a
directive" to proceed with the projects on the list.
of the issue discussed at a meeting of Council's special
services committee on Dec. 7 -- prior to Sheldon's introducing
the ordinance that evening -- was the matter of jurisdiction and
resultant responsibility for pay for the work.
said both he and Coons have been "having many conversations" in
that regard with state officials, particularly legislators,
Governor Ruth Ann Minner's staff and secretary of transportation
agency I have seen, other than us, takes two years to just think
about it," Clark said.
best I can say right now is that folks are unwilling to say a
flat 'no'," Coons said. If the county acts unilaterally, he
said, "the others will sit on their hands ... and we'll be left
holding the bag."
said he thinks "a stormwater utility is an excellent idea."
Establishing such an agency has been advocated by the state
Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and is
now the object of a feasibility study. It would assume
responsibility for stormwater management functions and have the
authority to levy a fee to pay for them.
county "should move forward now in partnership with state and
other agencies, but move deliberately," he said, adding, "I
don't see a crisis that compels us to act [hastily]."
Council's lawyer, Carol Dulin, said nine separate jurisdictions
"have a potential role" in addressing the problem. "It's
difficult to get a roomful of regulators to budge," Freebey
said. "Is this an issue that New Castle County should take on
Delaware Department of Transportation is on the receiving end of
finger-pointing. An oft-repeated putdown is that the powerful
highway agency overstepped itself when it thought it could make
water run uphill.
Batta, whom the special services department hired to evaluate
projects on the list, said it is "most likely" that a decision
30 years ago to divert White Clay Creek to reduce the number of
bridges required to improve Harmony Road caused flooding in
Newkirk Estates. Similarly, he listed drainage resulting from
the widening of Pulaski Highway as a contributor to the problem
Senator Karen Peterson objected to insinuations that state
government has been derelict in meeting its responsibilities.
She said the General Assembly agreed to provide $18 million to
go along with the county's $15 million to finance the buyout of
houses in Glenville destroyed by storms in September, 2003.
"Nobody ever said we (state government) did anything to create
that problem," she said. That buyout gave DelDOT land to replace
-- albeit to an extent greater than required -- Churchmans Marsh
wetland that will have to be taken for the planned widening of
Peterson pointed out that the legislature has been out of
session since before the September, 2004, and indicated that
she, for one, intends to press the matter when it convenes in
January. Meanwhile, she said, families displaced by the recent
flooding are in dire circumstances. Some, she said, are carrying
two mortgages while living with friends or relatives. One has
been in a motel since the storm.
can't help our people, we shouldn't be spending money on
anything [else]," she said.
it rains, we don't sleep," Steve Klebon, a resident of Newkirk
Estates, told the committee. "The next time we get a heavy rain
and if it happens at night you're going to be burying people."
is no lack of "heart-wrenching stories out there," Wayne
Merritt, a special services senior manager, said. And, when word
of the proposed ordinance gets around, "there will be other
people coming forward." He said one claimant calculated that
flooding had reduced the value of a recently-sold house by
$50,000 and wanted to know if the county would make up the
told the committee that, in addition to those on the list, there
is "a magnitude of [similar] problems in the county." The 30
projects that were selected are "things that can immediately be
done with a reasonable amount of money," he said.
did this list of projects get put together?" Coons asked, saying
that it is his understanding the projects that were evaluated
were those called to the department's attention by Council
members and other officials. He did not receive an answer.
Freebery has not responded to a Delaforum inquiry about what
parkland and other projects will be deferred.
Although the general rule of thumb is that location within the
so-called 100-year floodplain puts a property at risk, Bata said
recent rainfall has resulted in "places that are in the
floodplain that are not flooded and places that are not in the
floodplain that are." Glendale is an example of the latter, he
same token, he said, a relatively minor rainfall can produce
flooding if earlier storms have soaked the ground past its
ability to absorb the additional water.
"That's the way nature works," he said.