Culver says he’ll find new site for derailed ballfields

 

Despite overwhelming public objection to the city granting the county land for new softball fields — and denial by the Salisbury City Council — County Executive Bob Culver remains confident those fields will be built.

“I’ve got 100,000 people counting on me. I’m not going to let five people on the City Council change this for us,” Culver told The Independent.

“We’ll get the fields. I’m very positive about that. Don’t you see what we’ve already done with the county?  When life hands you lemons, all you can do is squeeze them and make lemonade. Life goes on.”

Culver, and others in favor, wanted softball fields constructed adjacent to the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex off Northwood Drive. They contended softball tournaments would attract tourists, who would boost the local economy by staying at hotels, eating out, filling up vehicles with gasoline and shopping.

But last week the City Council held a public hearing on the matter and, for more than two hours, heard comments from those who filled the council chamber to standing room only capacity. Others crowded the hallway.

Overwhelmingly, speakers spoke in favor of saving the forest. After the final speaker finished, Council President Jake Day called for a motion but council members fell silent. Day declared the matter dead and the room exploded in extended applause.

Cheers of approval erupted again when Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said the forest should be placed in land trust.

“What we have now is the best use for that land,” she said.

Environmentalist Joan Maloof, whose remarks focused on beauty of nature and the variety of trees standing in the forest, said she felt like she was “watching a dream come true” when the City Council turned thumbs down.

Culver, who watched on the public access channel from his office, said the forest might be mature, but it isn’t ancient as some characterized it.

Regardless, he said, the county will find a location for fields.

“We’re out looking and trying to make it work as much as we can. I’ve had several calls from people suggesting other locations for the ball fields but some other parcels might not have the existing infrastructure that we need.

“On some properties the county already owns we could need septic tanks installed and other facilities. For eight softball fields, we would need considerable bathroom facilities. We already had bathrooms in place at the athletic complex,” he said.

Because constructing a single softball field can cost $250,000, and the county wants eight of them, finding that framework is important, he said.

The state has agreed to grant the county matching funding for the softball fields, if the county secures land. That offer won’t expire until the end of 2016.

Culver wouldn’t divulge a specific location, but said there have been discussions with those who own land near county acreage.

“We’re talking to some people who own property, who surround our fields now. That property might be connected by a driveway or something like that, so I feel we’re on a good path,” he said.

Testimony against allowing the county to have the forest will most likely cause that area to be used more heavily now by hikers, runners and bikers who were unfamiliar with it.

“Somebody is going to have to buy insurance now, in case there are accidents out there. You know, maybe somebody was watching over us. Maybe this is for the best that we didn’t get that land,” he reasoned.

“I’m pleased with the outcome. I’m happy with it.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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