City moves closer to Naylor Mill park lands donation

By a vote of 4-1, the Salisbury City Council agreed to send the matter of donating land to the county to build additional ball fields onto a legislative session for serious consideration.

Council President Jake Day, Councilmen Tim Spies and Jack Heath and Councilwoman Shanie Shields voted in favor. Councilwoman Laura Mitchell was opposed, at the City Council meeting Monday.

County Executive Bob Culver asked for a good faith show of hands, to see how many council members are in favor of donating the 35 acres of forest off Naylor Mill Road, adjacent to the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex.

The issue has been controversial, because forest will be lost and construction will be close to the paleochannel, an underground source that provides drinking water.

County Administrator Wayne Strausburg said council members have nothing to worry about, concerning damaging water quality, because the Maryland Department of the Environment “won’t let us do anything to jeopardize the Paleochannel.”

“That’s what they live and breathe. A, we have to do it and B, we will do it,” he said, referring to following state regulations.

Mitchell said that, while having United States Specialty Sports Association  representatives  in town last month had “a wonderful impact” economically, her concern is for “people who live here, who are pumping money into the economy all the time, who rely on that water.”

Mike Moulds, director of the city’s public works department, said discussions with experts have shown development  of ball fields is suitable for that area.

“It comes down to socio-economic justification, where you balance the social-economic benefits against environmental and you try to achieve a balance. There are processes where you go in and EPA helps us find those types of things,” Moulds said.

“You ask what the economic impact is. You look at the social impacts. You have the environmental aspect of it. You have that matrix you can work through to decide whether it’s worth it or not. It can be a hard decision sometimes,” Moulds said.

Councilman Tim Spies expressed concern about water quality.

“The woods, I want to retain,  but also, root systems are part of the filtration system of that water. Have you considered having an arborist look at those trees? I think some trees are more worth saving than others. To have an assessment of that, just get a tree guy,” he said.

County officials assured him hiring an arborist is part of the process.

“We have no interest in changing the feel of that complex. We don’t want to take a single tree off that property that doesn’t have to come down. From a marketing standpoint and from an environmental standpoint, we do not want to deforest that land any more than necessary,” Strausburg said.

Councilman Jack Heath said there is doubt about the positive economic impact of bringing USSSA competitions to Salisbury. “I am acutely aware of that and support it. I do have concern about the Paleochannel, as we all do, for sure,” Heath said.

He said he’s confident the MDE “can judge if it’s being protected.”

Even so, he suggested asking Mark W. Eisner, president of Advanced Land and Water, Inc., the company hired to complete a source water protection plan for the paleochannel, about possible damage to the well head.

Mitchell said the council already asked Eisner, but he said he hadn’t done that particular study and couldn’t answer the question. She worried that if something environmentally detrimental occurred at the site, it would impact the water within the next 10 years, maybe sooner.

Mitchell said she wasn’t on the city council when Walmart and other development occurred on North Salisbury Boulevard, on top of the Paleochannel, but if she had  been, she would have had the same concerns.

Culver said  the city just built 500 units on Beaglin Park Drive, also on the Paleochannel, while Mitchell was on the city council. She countered she was talking about Walmart and  the apartments are further away from that critical area.

“The county has no interest in creating damage to the well head. It makes no sense. We wouldn’t do that … but if you want somebody’s opinion other than MDE, certainly that’s your prerogative,” Strausburg said, adding the MDE is the state’s environmental watch dog.

“And, we’re already paying for them, so we ought to take advantage of that,” he said.

Day asked for an answer from a hydrogeologist about what damage could be done to the well head. He also asked to see a configuration of the fields that are planned, and how the well head will be protected.

“Will there be measurable damage to the well head? Also, we  want to know if as much of mature woods as possible can be protected. Then we will look at a council consensus,” Day said.

But Culver said those requests “constitute spending a lot of money, even though the city has had sketches that show the configuration.”

“To actually lay it out and get it approved, we’ve got to go through a pretty long process,” Culver said.

Day then asked to see a schematic plan, so the project could be moved to legislative session.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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