Trees to be one casualty of Route 26 project

According to George Economos, the sycamore trees in front of his home in Millville are landmarks. They are part of the town’s history and deserve preservation. They greet the visitor on the way to the beach and let them know they are almost there.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: George Economos is upset about losing these trees.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
George Economos is upset about losing these trees.

“They identify the town,” he said. “They are 125 to 150 years old, and they are irreplaceable.”

The Economos property, at 544 Atlantic Avenue, is just east of the Millville Pet Shop, on the south side of Route 26. His in-laws used to make jewelry and sell it there when it the property was known as “Walnut Trees” for the many walnut trees they have as well.

Economos wondered why the trees will have to be cut down when Route 26 will be widened, and he wondered why the project has to run through his yard and the road can’t be widened across the street.

According to Tom Banez, project manager for the Route 26 project for DelDOT, Atlantic Avenue is not going to be widened uniformly, so certain parts will be widened on the south side, like in front of the Economos property, and certain parts on the north.

“The project runs from Saint George’s in Clarksville, and runs about four miles to the Assawoman Canal,” said Banez. “We can’t do it evenly from the center of the road because of cultural resources, primarily historic properties. A property has to be either listed or eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places, and there are 15 of those properties. And we can’t touch them. One of which is the Millville Pet Shop, just west of the Economos property.”

Banez said that just east of the Economos property, the project will come back more toward the center of the existing road. While Banez relayed that, at least from DelDOT’s perspective, there’s no such thing as historic trees, cutting them down is never done lightly.

“While we always take things like this into consideration — it’s never our goal to take down mature, valuable trees — a lot of times there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Banez. “We have poured over these issues many times and, while it might seem cavalier, this is not something that we like to do. But in order to fit a new roadway in, there have to be sacrifices made [to get the project done].”

Banez said that Economos and other property owners who are affected by the project will be compensated for the property that needs to be acquired in order for the project to begin. He noted that the value of the trees is part of the real estate negotiation. He also explained that DelDOT did everything they could do educate the very people who would be affected about what to expect.

“When we set up the alignment years ago, in 2003 and 2004, we had three public workshops and massive public outreach. We sent out ZIP-code mailers to 14,000 property owners and did everything we could to make them aware [of the project]. We are very willing to meet with any property owner on how we got to where we are.”

“It’s unfortunate that his beautiful sycamore trees are going to be impacted by the project,” continued Banez. “But it’s gotta fit somewhere.”

Ironically, for Economos, whose main question regarding the removal of the historic trees was wanting to preserve some of old Millville, DelDOT is doing just that in taking into consideration the Millville Pet Shop, along with the other historic properties. In order to meet the needs of the growing community, and preserve historic properties in the process, the loss of the trees is simply a by-product of the preservation, which is somewhat comforting to him.

“So it’ll look the old town, and it won’t look like the old town,” he said.

The project is set to start in the fall of 2010 with preliminary work, such as utility relocation, with visible roadway construction starting in the spring of 2011. The project will start at the east end of the Assawoman Canal and generally move to the west. The estimated construction timeline is four years. The project will add a third, turn lane to the areas where it currently has only two lanes, as well as other improvements.

For more information, call Project Manager Tom Banez at (302) 760-2363.