CIB proposes pilot 'town hall habitat' in Millville

Sally Boswell, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays’ education and outreach coordinator, has been seeing something special when she drives past Millville Town Hall. Boswell said she considers the modest lot on Route 26, with a drainage swale at its back, to be the ideal location for a “town hall habitat” pilot project.

Based on the idea of “backyard habitats” that have been promoted for residential property owners in the current wave of environmental friendliness and focus on outdoor living spaces, Boswell said she considers a partnership with Millville officials on the pilot project to be a way to turn Millville Town Hall into a model for habitat protection, stormwater management and effective buffering of tributaries.

“As a public building, regularly visited by citizens in the community, it is an ideal place to offer outreach and education to help citizens learn what they can do to improve water quality in the Inland Bays,” Boswell told council members at their May 22 workshop.

Boswell noted a similar pilot project that has made nearby Lord Baltimore Elementary School a model for “schoolyard habitats” in the Indian River School District.

Under Boswell’s proposal, the Millville Town Habitat Project would feature:

• A rain barrel to catch water from the roof of town hall that could then be used to water the property’s garden areas;

• A rain garden planted with native plants that require less water, fertilizer and pest management;

• Creation of a demonstration “buffer” along the ditch that runs behind town hall, to show citizens how to buffer tributaries to protect water quality in the bays. (Boswell noted this as a high-profile issue as buffer regulations are debated in the state’s Pollution Control Strategy and she said there is much misunderstanding about what buffers are and what makes them effective.)

• Rather than using asphalt, maintaining a “pervious” parking lot surface that allows water to percolate into the soil rather than run off into storm drains, where it goes, untreated, into tributaries.

Boswell said the demonstration buffer treatment for the drainage swale would include native plantings along the swale, proving to those concerned about buffer requirements that they can not only help protect the area’s watershed but be pretty, too – a feature of a property.

While she hesitated to recommend Millville remove some of its non-native plantings that already exist around town hall, she did recommend an increase in the numbers of native species being planted there if the pilot project moves forward.

Boswell noted the “residential scale” of Millville Town Hall as making it ideal as a demonstration project for homeowners to see what they can do at their own homes and in their own back yards to improve water quality in the Inland Bays watershed.

She also pointed to the building’s prominent location on Route 26 and the public access it allows as a way to provide high visibility to the public and offer demonstrations of various practices and technologies to citizens.

Millville Mayor Don Minyon was a clear proponent of the project out of the blocks. He already has what Boswell noted as a “long-standing relationship” with the CIB, since Minyon has been teaching watershed education at the James Farm Ecological Preserve for two years — something she cited as providing him particular knowledge about the benefits that the project could bring to the town.

Boswell said she expected that funding for the project could easily be obtained, from the CIB itself, and from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC)’s Watershed Assessment Division.

Ahead for the potential project: possible approval by the Millville Town Council to explore the project further; development of a budget; development of a site plan; identification of specific funding; and presentation of a proposed site plan, budget and timetable — all leading to a final approval by the council before any work on the site would commence.

Once completed, Boswell said she hopes the Millville model would be recreated at other town halls and city buildings in the Inland Bays watershed.

“I’m looking for big ideas,” she said enthusiastically. “We need to move to preserve our quality of life, and I don’t think we have 15 or 20 years to do it.”