A roomful of maps didn’t show the 52 residential, 10 commercial and nine agricultural properties that would be displaced by a Route 113 bypass. But people still had plenty to say about the proposed 16.5-mile highways that would cut through southern Sussex County.
The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) hosted two public hearings, Sept. 18 and 19 in Millsboro and Selbyville, to present a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which studied the pros and cons of five options for the proposed limited-access highway.
The federal government would pay for 80 percent of the major highway project, but DelDOT must complete a DEIS and public hearing to be eligible. If approved, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) may be published in 18 months.
The “Blue Alternative” was chosen as DelDOT’s “preferred” route. It creates a new highway that splits from the existing Route 113 north of Millsboro, curves eastward and rejoins the existing highway just south of Frankford. Part of the existing highway, in Selbyville, also becomes limited-access. The Blue Alternative is the most complex of the proposed routes, affecting 1084 acres of land and costing between $687 million and $839 million.
People viewed maps and spoke with DelDOT employees at the September hearings.
“I asked if they give any consideration to the historical value of such properties when they decide on their plans,” said Blair Parsons. He said officials’ response to the question was, “When we make these decisions, we’re just looking at lines on a map. We don’t know that these are family farms.”
“We are not just lines on a map,” Parsons said. “These are homes, farms and businesses — many of which have been passed on from generation to generation, and when you start running roads through the middle of them, you are ruining people’s lives.”
“If this is an evacuation route, why are we considering one with so many water crossings?” asked Corrine Sexton of Georgetown.
Sharon Adams of Dagsboro said she was upset about potential pollution, especially when a facility owned by NRG and one formerly owned by Vlasic were undergoing cleanup. “When you destroy the Indian River, who’s going to come back here?”
State Rep. John Atkins said he shared people’s desire to move the Millsboro on-ramp a few miles northward. That would cut across the state-owned Stockley Center and Sussex Central High School property without bridging so many waterways.
“In Florida, people are building roads through the Everglades every day,” Atkins said, encouraging DelDOT to consider even more options. “I’m not for taking anybody’s farm or home. I’d like to see a third lane [on Route 113] so people can access businesses. That’s my position. … Not one of us supported anything going across Millsboro Pond.”
Thomas Uss said he felt that the people are stuck with the options presented.
“I’d like see something different, but this is what’s out here. I literally can’t get out of the house on 113 in the summer, five days a week,” said Uss, noting that Kent County highways cross the marsh. “I know it’s a nice little pond and all to look at, but I can’t get to it.”
Carrie Bennett of Frankford requested an on-alignment solution, in which the highway is simply widened, as Georgetown has chosen. She said the bypass targets historically black neighborhoods near Frankford — “the path of least resistance [where] people have not been notified of anything.”
Her husband, Jim Bennett, was on the Millsboro-South Working Group, though he has said he disagreed with the recommendation reached. Jim Bennett said he had visited homes door-to-door several years ago to talk about the project, but he felt there was little response because elders in the black community remembered years past, when speaking out in Sussex County could generate a backlash.
“Haphazard zoning in Sussex County has resulted in sprawl,” said Hal Wallach, rejecting the “costly and complicated” bypass south of Millsboro. He said he also felt the highway’s funding and the attention the project would garner would detract from other state services, such as those for senior citizens.
“When I graduated college six years ago, I did not think I would be fighting this,” said farmer Paul Parsons of Dagsboro. “I thought I would be fighting bugs.”
The 300-acre Parsons farms would be divided by the Blue Alternative.
“You can’t replace farmland. DelDOT’s not going to pay us enough,” Parsons said. “If Georgetown and Selbyville can get on-alignment, why can’t we?”
“My husband and I in the process of buying our retirement home. We haven’t moved to Frankford,” said Tina Moore.
“Uh-oh,” said someone in the audience, anticipating what she was about to say.
“Route 113 goes right through our house,” said Moore, asking how she, others and farm equipment are supposed to cross the highway access their properties. “I don’t know of anyone who would like to live next to a bypass,” she said.
Marge Strootman’s Millsboro road would become a “lonely” dead end, where she said she wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable with her daughter, who is handicapped.
Frank Bennett moved to Frankford six years ago, when big commercial development encroached on his home.
“I’d never have bought this piece of land if had known in another 15 years I’d have another mortgage. They’re going to pay us bottom dollar,” said Bennett, who had only received an informational flyer about the project a week earlier.
Henry Bennett pointed out that agriculture had its own, separate, listing in the Draft Envronmental Impact Statement.
“Is agriculture not a business?” Bennett asked, citing the farming job he and his brother have. Despite the governor’s stance that construction creates jobs, Bennett said, they would probably be for out-of-state workers. “Let’s bury this thing,” he suggested.
“It seems like, right from the very beginning, it was a plan to keep government bureaucrats employed,” said Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips. “It’s $800 million now. You know how that goes. This is going to be a $2 billion fiasco. … I don’t support this.”
“If blue goes in, I come out,” said Chris Brandt, who lives in Dagsboro, but would lose his business at the new Route 54 interchange in Selbyville. He said the State will relocate affected businesses but not reimburse owners for their losses.
“They can’t keep up with roads and don’t push public transit,” Brandt said. “I’m a taxpayer and business owner. I put money up so the state can function, and then, ‘Oh, your business is expendable.’”
“If I knew this was going to happen, I never would have moved there. I just moved away from pollution, noise … and we’re going through it again with 113,” said Ellen Moreiko of Dagsboro. “It’s for the convenience of the tourists. I learned my way around. We should not have to deal with this big behemoth of a project. … It comes out of our local taxes, it’ll getcha from the federal, but they don’t have enough money to pay for maintenance of roads now.”
“We live in a resort area,” said Terri Menoche, whose own property is not affected, although her church would have been in another plan. She compared traffic to that she has encountered on her own vacations to Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We know in the summer [what to expect]. I know if I don’t want to sit in traffic, I go in September. I go in May.”
Brian Youse said he felt the real traffic problem is caused by existing Route 113 traffic lights that have gotten out of sync. Meanwhile, he advised, “The beach ain’t going nowhere. Take your time. Drive safe.”
State Sen. Gerald Hocker emphasized that his predecessor’s (George Bunting Jr.’s) original intent to study Route 113’s traffic problems has been blown out of proportion. He backed the increasingly popular suggestion for a land-based route.
“Get DelDOT and our State to listen to people that live here. When we [legislators] were called to the governor’s office … he sort of thought that none of us were on the same page. We knew what we wanted. The administration and DelDOT did not,” Hocker said. “As long as I am in the general assembly, I will ensure what is done is the wish of the people.”
“I don’t see how these little towns survive if all these tourists that bring the money are funneled through,” said Rich Collins.
“I love Millsboro, just as all of you do … [but] we need a better way to get through town,” said Tim Hodges, a Millsboro town council member and 23-year resident of the town. “Route 24 during rush hour is not fun,” he said, as he has gotten stuck beyond Hollyville Road, more than a mile outside of town limits.
“If I was in your shoes, would I be happy? No,” Hodges said. “There is a process where the State will pay for your home. My view is we need something. This is the only viable solution. Without this, it’s going to be another 20 years before anything else [is on the table].”
Half of the Millsboro meeting’s audience raised their hands when Millsboro Town Councilman Greg Hastings asked how many are daily affected by Route 24 traffic.
“Wearing a councilman’s hat, I have to say that a major concern of ours — when you look at Sussex County geographically — Millsboro is the only town divided by water. Our one strong major route … is Route 24,” Hastings said. “We need to do something about it, folks. … It’s all or nothing. If we drop this and take another route, we’ve lost 10 years.”
Hastings encouraged legislators to “fast-track” a new proposed route if the current plan is unpopular.
Former project manager Monroe Hite told the Coastal Point that an on-alignment option in Millsboro was not favored by the Millsboro-South Working Group. Georgetown had room in the medians for additional lanes, he said, in addition to political pressure to use an on-alignment option. But Millsboro Highway is too narrow in some areas, caused in part by some people building into the right-of-way, he said.
“It’s nothing new that was discussed [tonight],” said Hite of suggested options.
John Thoroughgood, Millsboro’s vice-mayor, said there was a “clear majority” when the working group voted for the new eastern bypass.
The Route 113 project team felt the public hearings were successful because they allowed the public to provide comments in a constructive way, according to Andrew Bing of the U.S. 113 project team and Kramer & Associates. More than 40 people spoke, and 25 gave private testimony.
While the comments were fairly one-sided, DelDOT still needs to see what the many written comments say, explained Bryan Behrens, the new project manager.
“Even Sen. Hocker [said] something needs to be done,” said Bing. “They’re not necessarily saying, ‘DelDOT go home.’ … They just don’t think this is the option.”
Written comments from the public will be considered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Comments must be submitted by Friday, Oct. 4, via the DelDOT website or sent to DelDOT Public Relations; P.O. Box 778; Dover, DE 19903.
For more information, contact DelDOT Public Relations at (302) 760-2080 or email DOTPR@state.de.us.
To view the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, visit www.deldot.gov/information/projects/us113, request a free CD by calling DelDOT Public Relations or view it in the following locations: DelDOT headquarters, 800 Bay Road in Dover; DelDOT South District Administration Building at 23697 Dupont Boulevard in Georgetown; FHWA, DelMar Division at 1201 College Park Drive, Suite 102, Dover; Millsboro Town Hall; Millsboro Public Library; Dagsboro Town Hall; Frankford Town Hall; Frankford Public Library; Selbyville Town Hall; or Selbyville Public Library.