Lawmakers Search for Funding as Boaters Call for Dredging - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Lawmakers Search for Funding as Boaters Call for Dredging

MILLSBORO, Del. - For many boaters, getting stuck in the water has become a common problem in Sussex County. From Millville and Dagsboro, to Millsboro and Long Neck, boaters are calling for dredging in the creeks and waterways that lead to the Indian River. At least 150 people gathered at the Millville Fire Hall Tuesday night to express their concerns with the growing problem in the county. 

One of those at the meeting was Gloria Bold, a resident of Hunter's Pointe in Millsboro, and a boat enthusiast. She and her husband Steve moved down to the development 12 years ago. Their home overlooks a beautiful tributary, that diverges off of the Indian River.

"We would go out boating every day," she said of those first couple years. "It's why we moved here."

But lately she said things have not been the same by that waterway. She said the water has become concentrated with silt, leading to shallow waters. In the summer of 2013, she said she saw at least ten boats get stuck in the waterway outside of her home. She said the water has become so shallow that people are leaving the development all together.  

"Last summer, it looked like it wasn't even a bay," she said. "There were hardly any boats. Very little boating going on. Very little water skiing. And it really saddened me because that's what people love about this area."

Bold took her concerns to Democratic Representative John Atkins from the Millsboro area, calling for dredging. Atkins said these complaints were brought to him by various boaters in the region. 

"I have phone calls constantly from my constituents that they've bought a waterfront property with a marina or a boat ramp," he said. "And they can't even use their boat because in some instances in low tide - you know - there's six inches of water on these mud flats." 

In response to the complaints, Atkins wrote a letter to Sen. Tom Carper, one of Delaware's congressional leaders, looking for federal funding. In a response, he was told congress was prioritizing commercial waterways, over recreational ones, such as those in Sussex County. That leaves the funding burden for this dredging solely on the state. 

Atkins said about $3 million is spent on dredging in the first state, although he said that probably needed to be tripled to address this problem. 

"The realistic answer is legislators are going to have to have enough guts to raise the revenue source," he said. "It's either that or our boating industry and our recreational and commercial fisherman that keep their boats here are going to leave."

At Tuesday night's meeting, various ideas were suggested as to how they would get that revenue. Simple ideas such as earmarks and tax increases were discussed as well as more involved plans such as Atkin's idea to set up a toll booth on the Delaware-Maryland border in Bridgeville. 

Boater Robert Angler spoke up at the meeting, and was met with applause from the audience when he suggested that new revenue was not the answer. 

"So many folks here are talking about increasing revenue," he said. "And I think the real hard part is not necessarily to increase revenue, but to look at how you're spending your current funds, and spend them wisely."

Angler said that money going towards biking and hiking should be moved to the boaters instead. He said there are 60,000 registered boaters in Delaware, something that suggests that the industry has an important economic impact. 

Despite all the suggested ideas, there currently are not any bills on the table. Complicating any proposed bill, centering on Sussex County issues is that the bulk of the representation is located up-state. Of the 21 senators in Delaware, only five are from Sussex County and of the 41 house representatives, only 9 are from the county. 

Tim Hodges, a resident at Hunter's Pointe, and a boater said there are specific areas of the waterway that need some work. 

"We do need maintenance of the waterway," he said. "The river needs to be dredged on a regular schedule. And right now it's just going a little too long in between the dredging cycles."

Other locations that Atkins listed as troubled areas in his letter to Sen. Carper include Massey's Landing in Long Neck, Pepper Creek in the Dagsboro area, and White Creek in the Ocean View area.

Bold said she hopes the dredging can be done soon so things can go back to the way it was in her neighborhood. 

"I worry most about what's going to happen to this part of Delaware if we don't," she said. "We've got to get revenue and that's what we've got to work on."
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