Wicomico looks at Barren Creek Road and Dam repair options

The dam was put in, in the early 1700s and during the years there have been four mills, a saw mill and three grist mills. (Todd Dudek Photo)

The dam was put in, in the early 1700s and during the years there have been four mills, a saw mill and three grist mills. (Todd Dudek Photo)

Residents of Mardela Springs who want Barren Creek Road and Pond restored, after a heavy summer rain caused flooding, are determined to continue working for resolution, despite state regulations that could prevent the project.

On Oct. 12, about 140 people gathered at the Mardela Springs Fire Company for a meeting called by state Sen. Addie Eckardt, and also attended by county officials and George Suggs, who owns the underlying creek bed property.

“The county went from totally ‘No’ to ‘Maybe’ at the meeting, so maybe we moved them a little bit. We’re going to keep pushing for it,” said David Kenney, who owns the local hardware store and who organized the meeting after taking Eckardt on a tour of the area.

The road washed out after a July storm dumped about 8 inches of rain that caused the dam for the 11,000-acre watershed to overflow. Kenney said the Wicomico Public Works Department should have been proactive and opened the floodgates, but didn’t arrive until “12 hours after the fact.”

Barren Road cuts from Riggin Road across the north side, from Route 50 to Route 54, Kenney explained.

“It’s not that far. It’s between the light and the railroad. Otherwise, you have to go all the way around. Now with Route 54 closed for replacing the bridge it’s their only way out. If you’re coming down (Route) 313 it’s the only outlet that way through.

“Some of the parents at the school are very concerned about the amount of traffic going through the traffic light when the school is letting in and letting out, so this is another concern,” Kenney said.

County Executive Bob Culver, who planned to meet with Suggs on Oct. 21, said he’s not opposed to restoring the road, but he’s being realistic.

“Department of Natural Resources officials have asked us to restore the area in a natural way, with the creek going through there. We have all the state agencies that don’t want us to build it back. They don’t want to see it go back,” Culver said.

Restoration would cost $500,000 to $4 million and take several years and the state won’t pay for it, he said.

Culver said he’s been in discussions with the landowner to see if he’s willing to donate the land in order to get the road repaired.

“We cannot do anything without this property owner’s consent,” he said. “We know that the only other property owner on Barren Creek Road doesn’t want the road reopened. The other, who owns the pond and the dam, doesn’t live in Wicomico County and as of now, his intentions are unclear.”

Culver made clear the complexity of the matter.

“I never have been against the road, but it’s not the decision of Wicomico County right now. We don’t own the road. It’s a private road bed. What do they want me to do? Condemn the man’s (Suggs’) property? I am certainly not looking at eminent domain. It’s a private dam with private earth and berm,” Culver said.

“If I could get it built, put a couple culvert pipes in, I would do it tomorrow but we have to follow regulations,” he said.

“I know people are anxious for the road to be fixed. I understand that. But the state requires, if you have a dam or upstream situation where fish would be coming down to spawn, a fish ladder is required. The ladder can cost up to $1 million to build, and that’s not including the bridge,” Culver said.

“If we went back to restore what we have there now, we have a 5:1 or 6:1 pitch from the water to the top of the road. The state requires a 2:1 pitch, so there’s a lot more fill at the base of the earth and berm. That’s the problem we have,” Culver said.

Plus, he said, the project would have to be in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

“We could always finance something like this but it would be three years before you get it in the CIP, get the council to approve it, go to the bond market and get the money and that’s if it was a win-win situation,” he said.

Regardless, Councilman Marc Kilmer told the Salisbury Independent he wants to see the project done and said County Council will discuss the matter at an upcoming work session.

“What the real issue is, is restoring the road. It can be done without restoring the dam. I am very strongly in support of Barren Creek Road being restored and as quickly as possible. The county is responsible for the road being washed out and the county owes it to Mardela,” Kilmer said.

“The county spent $2 million on Morris Mill Dam because they thought it was important to maintain the dam. The county didn’t have any problem with spending the money for Morris Mill, so now all of a sudden we have problems,” Kilmer said.

“So now it’s basically the citizens of the area against the state government and the county and County Executive,” Kenney said.

“The people want the road back. They really don’t feel like they had anything to do with it washing out. The county had the responsibility, since it was under their control. They should be ones to put it back,” he said.

Culver said there are at least three options to consider:

  • Rebuild the dam to current dam safety standards and rebuild the road at an estimated cost of $4 million.
  • Forgo the dam but install fish passage pipes to allow the water to flow under the road and fish to spawn in the creek. This option wouldn’t restore the pond, but the county could do some wetland restoration. Estimated cost: $500,000 to $750,000.
  • Make permanent cul-de-sacs on each end of the road and let the natural flow occur as it is today. This option could also include building wetlands in the pond bottom. Estimated cost: $50,000 to $100,000.

Kenney said Suggs, a part-time resident of Mardela Springs, said he will work with the county on granting easements if the road is repaired.

As for county officials not being able to afford construction, Kenney said there’s a contingency fund and he’s confident they can find a way to pay for it.

Locals want the road rebuilt for travel, but also for historical value.

The dam was put in, in the early 1700s and during the years there have been four mills, a saw mill and three grist mills, so there’s strong history, Kenney said.

“It tells the story of how we used to live,” he said.

“There’s a lot of uproar with folks we don’t understand why our county executive has been saying it’s a no-go from day one. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of effort,” he said.

At the Oct. 12 meeting, many residents said it’s inconvenient for them not to have the road because they have to travel about 2 miles out of their way, but Culver said state officials won’t approve a project based on inconvenience.

“We know that,” Kenney said.

“But they still need to hear it.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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