Residents call for state to maintain waterways

Cite urgent need to dredge Assawoman Canal, Inland Bay tributaries
Sen. Gerald Hocker and Rep. Ron Gray held a community meeting on dredging Assawoman Canal and the waterways of the Inland Bays. Shown is John Lowery of Selbyville, who asks Hocker a question. BY CHRIS FLOOD
May 26, 2014

There are 27 navigable waterways in Delaware but recent changes in federal spending means all but three of them will now be maintained by the state.

In Sussex County, the Assawoman Canal and the often-used waterways of the Inland Bays fall into the state-run category. The problem facing the state, and the residents of lower Sussex County, is the waterways have not been maintained on a regular basis, and hard financial times are going to make finding a funding source to do so hard.

This is why Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, and Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, held a community meeting in the Millville Fire Hall May 13.

Both Hocker and Gray said they regularly get more emails about this issue than any other, which is why they decided to hold the meeting.

Frank Piorko, Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control Division of Watershed Stewardship director, said the state has no dedicated source of funding to dredge the state's waterways on a regular cycle. He estimated $3 million annually would allow for one large dredging project and the maintenance of navigational aids per year.

Tony Pratt, DNREC Shoreline and Waterway Management administrator, said most state waterways will never again be maintained by the federal government. A collective voice is needed to tell state officials what to do, he said.

There needs to be a collective voice so the General Assembly can collectively solve the issue, Pratt said.

A sense of frustration filled the room.

Tom Fowler, owner of Ocean View Marina in Ocean View, said it was up to the state to find the necessary revenue. He suggested increasing the cost of boater registration and making sure the money goes to dredging. It’s been years since White Creek was dredged, he said; it is now 2 feet a low tide.

A trail at Holt’s Landing State Park was briefly discussed, but the majority in attendance were concerned about the waterways.

Sussex County resident John Mitchell summed up the crowd’s attitude and received the night’s biggest applause when he said, “It’s very refreshing to hear about the trails, because if we don’t have waterways working, we’re going to need trails.”

Bill Murphy, of Millville, followed with, “The state has spent $3 million on trails and I can’t get out of my dock.”

Pointing to the 10 DNREC employees standing by to answer questions, Millville resident Gary Willey said, “Seems like all the fees and taxes go to pay your salaries, and then there’s nothing left.”

Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, attended the meeting and suggested a toll on Route 404 as way to create revenue. He said the state is leaving about $25 million a year in revenue on the table by not having the toll.

“People aren’t going to stop coming to Sussex County for a $2 toll,” he said.