Work on overpass set to begin at routes 1 and 16; other local news

In this week's newsletter: A major road project, land preservation, Harrington violates open meetings law and more.

Work on overpass set to begin at routes 1 and 16; other local news
Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski speaks at the groundbreaking for a new overpass at Route 1 and Route 16 east of Milton. State Sen. Dave Wilson and Gov. John Carney look on in the background. Rep. Stephen Smyk is back there somewhere too. 

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Here's a look at news and events from around southern Delaware this week.

Officials help out the bulldozers at new Route 1 overpass

Construction equipment is gathering at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 16, where work is set to begin on a long-planned overpass. It’s one of a number of projects aiming to improve traffic flow on Route 1 and make intersections safer.

“This intersection has one of the highest crash rates along the Route 1 corridor,” Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski said Tuesday at a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Gov. John Carney, state Sen. Dave Wilson, state Rep. Stephen Smyk, and other officials.

Majeski noted that although construction is just beginning, the project has been years in the making. With lots of new money for roads in the state budget, she said, construction will become a familiar sight for drivers.

“An orange barrel is coming to a road near you,” she said.

An artistic rendering of the future overpass at the intersection. Courtesy of DelDOT

Carney observed this is the last intersection with a traffic signal between I-95 up north and Route 9 in Lewes, so it will help get tourists to the beaches more quickly in addition to addressing safety issues.

“We know that folks focus on how long it takes them to get from the Baltimore Washington corridor, or from New York and Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to get to our wonderful beaches,” he said.

Gov. John Carney, state lawmakers and officials take part in the groundbreaking for the Route 1/16 overpass. This traditional ceremony is a necessary first step in moving dirt from one side of the pile to the other. 

Wilson pointed to the need to resolve problems for emergency services traveling in the area. “This is a big deal, and we need to move forward … anytime we can get money out of Washington to make something happen better in Sussex County, I’m all in favor of it.”

Gov. John Carney chats with a couple youngsters who stopped by the press conference to meet him. 

Sussex County spends $5 million on land preservation

Sussex County has announced what it’s doing with the millions of dollars in extra transfer tax money that it voted to put into land preservation. County Administrator Todd Lawson said this week they would spend about $5 million to preserve 151 acres on four parcels. (That price tag is an example of land values right now and the challenge of preservation).

Lawson said the county has helped preserve over 5,000 acres of land since 2003 in cooperation with other partners, and that land preservation is both a goal of the county in its comprehensive plan and an issue they’re hearing from residents about.

A drone photo of the Hopkins Preserve parcel. Photo courtesy of Sussex County 

The parcels just announced include the 13-acre Dorman tract, located off Route 24 not far from Burton’s Pond, which with another preserved tract next to it totals about 30 acres; the Dawson Brothers tract, 40 acres east of Route 24 and Route 5; and the Jones tract, made up of 47 acres west of Millsboro. The parcels include farmland and forested area. With the Jones tract, the family was considering competing offers, Lawson said, but decided to go the preservation route even though the county’s offer was lower than some others.  

A similar offer helped the county buy what Lawson called the landmark parcel of the purchases. That’s a 51-acre piece of farmland bought for $1.5 million from the family that runs Hopkins Farm Creamery in Lewes. This parcel, east of Lewes on Sweetbriar Road and next to the Lewes and Georgetown bike path, will be known as Hopkins Preserve. The family sold it at half price to the county, which was a tremendous act of philanthropy, Lawson said, alluding to land prices in the area.

The property will be managed by the Sussex County Land Trust. Executive Director Mark Chura told County Council that the trust has been lining up donors to fund the work on the property.

“We’re really excited to make this happen,” Chura said.  

Find out more about the different tracts of land in the County Council presentation, which begins around minute 16.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the county also approved its annual budget, which we wrote about when it was introduced.

Sussex rides building boom to fund government, other local news
In this newsletter: Inflation hits government, an election deadline in May, plastic bag ban update and more.

Public will get a chance to weigh in on special tax district for library

As preliminary work continues on a new Harrington library building, Library Director Marleena Scott is putting in motion a request for a special tax district to help pay for an expected increase in the cost of operations in the new building.

The new tax would cost property owners about $20 to $30 a year, but would replace taxes many area residents are already paying, the library said in a presentation prepared for Council.

Previous projections were that the library will need about $400,000 to $450,000 a year to cover more staff and other expenses in the new building. (Without a new building, the projected operating cost would be about $200,000.)

According to the presentation, the proposed tax area would cover the Lake Forest School District and would add 4.9 cents per $100 of assessed value to a property owner’s annual county taxes. Harrington residents, the library pointed out, already contribute to the library through the city’s support, and people outside Harrington already pay 3.3 cents per $100 for library costs. This would be replaced by the new rate if the district were adopted as proposed. As an example of the cost, the rate applied to the library’s 110 E. Center Street Property, assessed at $43,900, would come to about $21.50 a year.

The reasoning for putting the tax district in the Lake Forest boundary is that the Harrington Library is the only one in that area.

Kent County will need to approve the tax district, but first the library needs the city to request the district.

The Council tabled that resolution at Tuesday’s meeting, with Mayor Duane E. Bivans saying they wanted to hold a public hearing first. No date was set for that Tuesday night but it should be announced soon.

Will this time be the charm for a new Harrington Library?
The Harrington Library could get a major expansion in the next few years: A new and much larger building, more books and more staff. It’s a project that could cost more than $10 million. The effort has been in the works for years but has faced delays, library Director Marleena

State rules Harrington violated open meetings law

The city of Harrington held a budget meeting in February without notifying the public, in violation of open meeting laws, the Delaware Attorney General’s Office has determined.

The ruling was in response to a complaint from Eric Marquis, a former city council member. Marquis argued that the city should have posted notice of the meeting, and also should have provided minutes.

In a response the city said that on Feb. 22, city employees discussed bonuses for employees with two members of Council who were on the budget committee. The city later voted to approve the bonuses at a public meeting.

The city did not dispute that it was technically a meeting, but said the meeting was “administrative in nature,” and that although it was a budget meeting because two of the three Council members on the committee were present, the committee only makes recommendations and doesn’t vote on anything.

State officials held that the meeting was a violation, although the city was not required to post minutes. The city did retroactively create minutes and provide them to the attorney general’s office.

The bonuses will likely stand. “There is not a sufficient basis to conclude that a court is likely to find that the serious sanction of invalidating the City’s decision to adopt the employee bonuses is appropriate,” the state’s ruling said.

“The Committee is cautioned to strictly follow the open meeting requirements for its meetings in the future,” the attorney general’s office said.

City attorney Dianna Stuart declined to comment further on the incident to the Independent.  

Marquis was a dissenting vote on some occasions as the Council dealt with the firing of city manager Don Williams after accusations of misconduct by then-former city planner Jeremy Rothwell, according to news reports at the time. For example, Marquis voted to reinstate Williams, the News Journal reported.

Rothwell is now doing work for the city again.

Cornerstone Community Center marks Juneteenth

I didn't make it to Cornerstone Community Center’s Juneteenth celebration in Bridgeville on Saturday, but they kindly provided some photos. Founder Latoya Harris said via Facebook that the event went well – about 120 people attended over the course of the event, which included food, inflatables for the kids, dancing, historical presentations, and an appearance by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.

Steam engines and more at Laurel show

Antique tractors and farm equipment, along with antique cars, will be on display this weekend at the First State Antique Tractor Club’s annual show.

The show runs Friday to Sunday, June 24-26, at the Laurel Farmer’s Auction Market in Laurel. There will also be a car show in cooperation with the Eastern Shore Region Antique Auto Club of America.

Activities, in addition to checking out vintage machines, include a kids pedal tractor pull, a silent auction, a Delaware State Police K-9 demonstration, and demonstrations from artisans like a blacksmith, a basket maker and a broom maker. There will also be a craft fair, flea market, and food vendors. Admission and parking are free.

Find more information here.

Watch for running bulls

This Saturday marks the 25th Running of the Bull in Dewey Beach, which unlike the similarly named event in Pamplona, Spain, features a solitary bovine that looks suspiciously artificial. The Dewey version of the event is really more of a chance to drink and party, with nobody breaking any ribs and proceeds benefiting the Rehoboth Beach Fire Department. Each year the "bull" also battles a matador, last year going down in defeat to Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.

If you’re driving in the area that day, DelDOT put out an advisory that traffic will be stopped briefly on Route 1 at 1 p.m. as the run sets off from the Starboard restaurant. Obviously, there will also be a substantial increase in pedestrians.

Find out more about the event here.

Arrest made after body found on golf course

Police have identified the body found at Baywood Greens golf course near Long Neck, and made an arrest in the case.

Michael Klein, 57, of Millsboro faces a charge of first degree murder.

Troopers responded to the golf course Tuesday evening, June 7, after the discovery of the body of Lewis Fetrow, 64, of Millsboro, Delaware State Police said. Fetrow had been stabbed multiple times several days before, police said, and investigators determined that Klein had killed him.  

Klein was already jailed at Sussex Correctional Institution on unrelated charges that happened after the killing, police said. He remained imprisoned on $1.06 million cash bond.

The News Journal's Shannon McNaught dug up more details on the case.

Other events

Friday, June 24

  • Juggler Cascading Carlos visits the Selbyville Library, 11 a.m.
  • Storytelling at the Greenwood Library featuring Diane Macklin, 4 p.m. Registration is required.
  • Gallery 107’s “Summer Splendor Art Show” opening reception with refreshments, featuring work from Nanticoke River Arts Council artists. 5-7 p.m. at Gallery 107 in Seaford.

Tuesday, June 28

  • Summer concert at Holts Landing: Flatland Drive (bluegrass), 6 p.m.

Monday, July 4

  • Milton July 4th Festival, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Milton Memorial Park, organized by the Milton Chamber. Games, dunk tanks, food, water balloon fights, sack races, bike decorating contest, parade and more.

Thursday, July 7

  • Out Run Hunger 5K in Milford benefiting the Food Bank of Delaware. After-party featuring food, drinks and a steel drum player. $30 until July 5; $35 day of. Register and find more information here.  

Saturday, July 9

  • Nanticoke Riverfest in downtown Seaford, 9 a.m. Car show, children’s area, petting zoo, scavenger hunt and more.
  • 42nd annual sandcastle contest at Delaware Seashore State Park, 9:30 a.m. Free contest entry; park fees apply.

Monday, July 11

  • Public hearing on proposed Bridgeville voting districts, 7 p.m. at the Bridgeville Library during the regularly scheduled Commission meeting.

Thursday, July 21

  • Harrington Library book club, 12 p.m. Ages 18 plus, new members welcome.

Saturday, July 30

  • Harrington Library mobile gaming bus, featuring seven widescreen TVs, a laser light show, and multiplayer gaming. Free. 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 2

  • Blades Police Department National Night Out, 6-8 p.m. Food, fun, games and music.

Friday, Aug. 5

Tuesday, Aug. 9

  • Greenwood Police Department Night Out, 6-8 p.m. at the firehouse.

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