Posted: Oct. 7, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

In a curious turn of events, the way to help the Glenville residents who survived the punishing flood from Henri last month may be more water, not less.

Turn Glenville into a reservoir. New Castle County, a year removed from a record drought, even if it does seem hard to remember that now, needs a new water supply in the area, anyway.

Alternatively, let the neighborhood become marshland. The state Transportation Department already is looking for a place nearby to create wetlands to replace what would be lost from Churchmans Marsh in a project to expand Interstate 95.

These ideas were discussed Monday when a working group of federal, state and county officials met, as they have been, to figure out what can be done for about 300 Glenville residents seeking a government buyout of the 195-home community that was flooded Sept. 15.

The brainstorm came from state Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, a Sherwood Park Democrat whose district includes Glenville. "Talk about thinking outside the box," said Mark T. Brainard, the chief of staff for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

The proposals need to be studied to determine whether they are workable, but they have caught the attention not only of the Minner administration, but County Executive Thomas P. Gordon, County Council President Christopher A. Coons, state Sen. Karen E. Peterson and others who attended the meeting.

"A reservoir is probably a good way to get the buyout done, because it's something that has to happen, anyway," Gilligan said.

What is particularly attractive is the way it would refocus the thinking about government spending. Instead of being exclusively for a buyout, the money also would go for a larger public purpose, and it could come from more sources than what appears to be meager federal financing available for disaster relief.

"It addresses the major concern of many state legislators -- the precedent of buying out homes," Coons said.

There has yet to be an estimate of the cost for dealing with Glenville, but the working group expects it to be in the neighborhood of $30 million -- an amount that seems difficult to attain for a buyout without a special appropriation from the Congress.

Officials are looking at perhaps $500,000 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), $10 million from the Army Corps of Engineers, $5 million or more from New Castle County and an unspecified amount from the state.

Still, it is clear something has to be done. "You have to get rid of the community as it sits there. This is a real public-safety dangerous situation. We would have had an awful lot of people die if it [the flooding] was in the middle of the night," Gordon said. "I am not going to stop until it's resolved."

To come up with a solution, Gilligan simply combined his concerns about Glenville with an ongoing evaluation by the state to decide whether Bread & Cheese Island, which is not an island at all but land immediately to the south of the neighborhood, could be turned into a reservoir for drinking water or into marshland to accommodate improvements for I-95. Federal highway projects are required to create new wetlands whenever others are destroyed as a means for flood control -- to prevent more Glenvilles elsewhere.

Because there are environmental concerns about Bread & Cheese Island, using Glenville instead actually could be a better solution, Gilligan said.

More water for Glenville appears to defy logic, but the government working group already has done that, anyway. It has brought to the same table the governor's staff and Karen Peterson, who may run against Minner in a Democratic primary next year, as well as Gordon and Coons, who is expected to face Sherry L. Freebery, the chief administrative officer for Gordon, in a Democratic primary for county executive.

"It's pretty much an only-in-Delaware thing," Coons said.