In a 4-3 vote, Milton Town Council approved moving forward with an $838,000 project to address flooding issues at the Magnolia Street parking lot and repair the bulkhead along the Broadkill River.
A little more than half the cost - $435,000 - will come from state funds; the remaining $403,000 will come from Milton’s existing real estate transfer tax. Town officials are under the gun, as Milton risked losing state funding if the project did not move forward.
Flooding at the parking lot has long been an issue, especially following storms. About a third of the lot is often unusable because it is covered in water. A plan to improve drainage was first introduced in early 2019. It called for a rain garden near Bodie’s Dairy Market, along with new infrastructure to improve water flow. The fixes would not prevent flooding during a storm, but would reduce day-to-day flooding. The project grew to include repairs to the bulkhead along the river.
The town secured funding through a combination of the state bond bill and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. However, that funding came with a deadline. At council’s Feb. 3 meeting, Town Manager Kristy Rogers said the clock was close to running out, and council had to make a decision whether to go forward.
Council debated the bulkhead and the parking lot as two separate projects. While no one was necessarily opposed to the bulkhead portion, the parking lot was a more controversial topic, primarily because installing a rain garden there would cost the town 19 parking spaces with no clear plan on how to make up for the loss of those spaces. The existing parking lot has 52 spaces. The town has approached Milton Historical Society about land the society owns across from the parking lot for overflow parking, but the society has been wary of putting vehicles on that land due to flooding problems, plus the society is planning future expansion.
Mayor Ted Kanakos asked, “Why are we concerned with the flooding in the parking lot?”
Public Works Supervisor Greg Wingo said, “A normal high tide now is flooding that parking lot. Something needs to be done because it’s only going to get worse.”
Kanakos was wary of losing the 19 spaces and questioned whether the cost of losing those spaces was worth it. He said he did not think the parking lot was in bad enough shape to justify the cost.
Councilman Kevin Kelly said, “We’re also talking about the consequences of persistent flooding on the infrastructure there and whether or not that will eventually collapse and result in increased costs to replace the infrastructure that’s there.”
On the bulkhead, Ted Thompson, engineer with Milton’s engineers Pennoni Associates, said a 30-inch drain pipe flows out to the river, but that pipe has collapsed, leading to a loss of soil behind the wall. The wall around the pipe has corroded, he said.
Thompson said there are likely two sources causing the parking lot to flood. First, at high tide and excessive high tides, water backflows into the pipe and gets past the catch basins. Second, during storms, water from upstream overflows the stormwater system and runs into the parking lot. Thompson said a rain garden, new pipe and a pump station will decrease the frequency of flooding in the parking lot, which, in turn, would shore up the bulkhead.
When asked by Councilman Rich Baty what would happen if the town were to do nothing, Thompson said, “If you don’t do anything with the 30-inch pipe or the wall, corrosion will continue. Holes will get bigger. That pipe can collapse. That would cause a sinkhole in the parking lot. It will block flow of that stormwater that’s trying to get into the river.”
Councilmen Baty, Kelly, Sam Garde and Michael Cote voted to move forward with the project.
“My opinion is it would be a mistake to not do the parking lot or the bulkhead. I just think we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t try to fix this,” Baty said.
Councilmen Charlie Fleetwood and Emory West voted against the project, along with Kanakos, who said he was fine with fixing the bulkhead, but not the parking lot.
“I don’t think it is a practical solution right now. I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.
West added, “I’m all for the bulkhead, but I am dead set against those rain gardens.”
After the motion to approve moving forward passed, Kanakos had the last word.
“I think it is a horrible mistake, but the council has spoken,” he said.