Update: Markell takes tough questions at forum

Worries about Route 113, education, jobs draw large audience
Gov. Jack Markell answers a question during his Conversations with the Governor stop at Cape Henlopen High School. BY RON MACARTHUR
October 9, 2013

From the path of the proposed 113 bypass to protection for the Inland Bays and the need for vocational training for high school students, Delaware residents let their governor know exactly what's on their minds at an Oct. 3 forum at Cape Henlopen High School.

Markell and most of his cabinet members attended the second of three Conversations with the Governor, a tour that includes stops in each county. Residents also questioned the governor and other state officials on school climate, job creation and real estate transfer taxes.

In his second four-year term, Markell said the clock is ticking on his time as governor. He said he has 3 1/2 years remaining to realize the goals and plans he has established. "We are going to wake up every day and work our best to leave the state better than we found it and make this state better for the next generation," he said. "It's hard and challenging, but I think we have a shot; we are not giving up."

Sensing the urgency, he said, "Every day is one less day we can work to make the state all that it can be."

It didn't take long for someone to ask a question about one of the most controversial topics in the county – the Route 113 bypass project.

Henry Bennett, a sixth-generation farmer in Sussex County, asked why the state was willing to sacrifice valuable farmland to make way for the proposed bypass around the Millsboro area. Under the plan for the new roadway east of Millsboro, numerous farms and homes would be purchased to make way for a 16.5-mile road.

Bennett said many people in the area support a plan that would utilize the existing highway.

Secretary of Transportation Shailen Bhatt said the Route 113 bypass plan was designed with input from the community. “We have to represent the 80,000 people who use the road everyday,” he said.

He said DelDOT is focused on a $1 billion, 30-year plan to build a bypass for future growth. “There are going to be impacts to somebody,” he said.

Comparing the project to the Route 1 bypass as an alternate to Route 113, Bhatt said some farms and private properties were taken. “But can you imagine the state without Route 1?” he asked.

Bill Moyer of the Inland Bays Foundation told the governor state and county responses to proposals to protect the Inland Bays have been underwhelming. He challenged the governor to create a blue-ribbon panel to look at the foundation's proposals, to implement a watershed improvement plan and create a bill to establish meaningful buffers.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O'Mara said in spite of work to remove individual septic systems, the Inland Bays have not received the focus they deserve. “We have a lot more work to do,” he said.

Markell said he was not keen on creating a blue-ribbon panel because it would generate a report that could end up on someone's office shelf. “I'm more interested in action and results,” he said.

When asked about creating jobs in Delaware, Markell said that has been his administration's focus since the first day he was elected. He said jobs are being created, but not at a fast enough pace. Markell said he and Delaware Economic Development Office Secretary Alan Levin meet on a regular basis with business people. “We ask them what we can do to facilitate them,” he said.

He said state agencies were charged with looking at all regulations with 130 being eliminated or changed.

“As long as one Delawarean is looking for a job, we will not rest,” Markell said.

Claudia Waters told the governor that the state's prisons were filled with too many children, and a disproportionate number of African American children. “We are looking for a problem solver,” she said.

Markell said the state has placed major emphasis on early childhood education with a $22 million per year investment in programs. He said one of three pre-school-age children are now enrolled in a quality program compared to one in 20 just a few years ago. He said federal research shows the importance of reaching children at an early age to set the stage for future success in school.

Jane Huffington asked why there was no longer a school in Sussex County designed strictly to provide vocational education. She said there is a high demand for skills training for students not headed to college.

Markell said he agreed there are fewer vocational options for students than in the past. “That's a conversation that needs to take place district by district. It's a conversation I welcome,” Markell said.

Markell said he would commit to a downstate education forum to spend more time discussing educational issues and initiatives underway in the state.

On the federal government shutdown, Markell said the stalemate is not just about politics because it affects people who depend on government programs such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition supplement program. He said there is enough money to sustain that program for six weeks, but many other federal programs administered by the state have only one week's worth of funding available. “This is about real people who are impacted by the dysfunction in Washington,” he said.


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