SEAFORD — It was buried along the banks of the Nanticoke River in the mid-1950s when Seaford native Randy Larrimore’s father was mayor.
Now, supported by Delaware’s congressional delegation, the aging sewer line will be replaced, upgraded and moved out of the flood plain — a project vital to future phases of the Oyster House Park Project and wastewater infrastructure needs of Seaford and three other Western Sussex communities.
“It’s going to enable the Oyster House Project to move forward. It’s going to protect the integrity and cleanliness of the Nanticoke,” said U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., in Seaford Friday to announce, on behalf of congressional colleagues Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a $1.2 million spending award to the Seaford Sewer Pipe Relocation Project.
The Oyster House Park, at 201 S. Cannon St. at the site of the old J.B. Robinson Oyster House, officially opened to the public in the summer of 2021 to commemorate the completion of the first phase of the four-phase master plan project approved by City Council in February 2020.
That plan focused on enhancing access to the Nanticoke River along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (Chesapeake Trail).
As part of the project, future phased plans include a natural green amphitheater/classroom, an “oyster house” community facility and other amenities.
“The sewer line is critical,” said City Manager Charles Anderson. “This sewer line really services Blades, Bridgeville and Greenwood and Seaford. It is really a regional piece of infrastructure. That line currently handles over one million gallons a day that flow right next to one of the most pristine rivers along the Chesapeake Bay. That has served the citizens well. But it is time to upgrade that infrastructure.”
Installation of 1,000 linear feet of 24-inch sewer line that will replace the current 18-inch line must be completed prior to Phase 2 of the Oyster House Park Project.
“Where it is located, we’ve got to get it out of the flood plain, and make sure it is appropriate for construction in today’s society. We’ll floodproof this,” said Mr. Anderson.
Mr. Larrimore, chairman of the Chesapeake Conservancy, was instrumental in efforts that culminated in the conservancy’s purchase of the property near the river’s edge along Cannon Street and donating it to the city for the park project along the Seaford Riverwalk.
“That started this dream of turning Seaford’s downtown into the vital area it was when I was growing up. I really think this park has a chance to continue … to bring economic vitality back to Seaford,” said Mr. Larrimore. “It brings people down to the water. It gives them access to this wonderful river that we have, which when I was growing up, none of us could swim in it.”
There is some irony.
“In the 1950s and 1960s it (Nanticoke River) was full of sewage. My father happened to be mayor back then. He and others decided to build a sewage disposal plant,” said Mr. Larrimore.
“So, it seems ironic that I am now providing access to the water my father helped clean up back in the 1950s. Perhaps more interestingly, he was responsible for putting that pipe in the wrong spot. In the 1950s, engineers put it there. If he had thought ahead, he could have put the pipe up the hill a little bit farther and I wouldn’t have to be here all this time trying to find money for this pipe.”
The sewer project will entail moving the new interceptor line upslope several feet.
Total cost of this project, which encompasses Sussex County’s sewer system, has yet to be determined.
“We don’t have a current estimate. Sussex County is a partner in it, and they are going to pay approximately 30% of the cost, and then the city will work to get funding for whatever gap is left,” said Mr. Anderson. “Contractually, we all share this infrastructure and its cost of improvement.”
Local, county and state officials applauded Sen. Carper for his long commitment to Seaford.
“The senator has always been great supporter,” said State Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford. “This is the hill that was almost too high to climb to make this project continue. We were struggling with this. We were sincerely at a point of frustration I think as to how we could get beyond this. I’m just here to say as a past mayor this is ultimately very important.”
Sussex County Council President and former city councilman Michael Vincent echoed thanks for the congressional support. He added that this will allow growth on this side of the county, potentially more jobs.
“It is a great day to allow things to grow in this part of the county,” said Mr. Vincent.
“What is happening today is a really important chapter in the future of Seaford and the Nanticoke River,” said Joel Dunn, Chesapeake Conservancy CEO/president. “The Oyster House Park will be a gem for the city and future generations to enjoy.”
Seaford Mayor David Genshaw said there are already dividends from the approximate $1.1 million Phase 1, which included extension of the Seaford Riverwalk, creating fishing nooks, a performance deck, boat docking facilities, a kayak launch and bulkhead stabilization.
“The number of families you see walking or fishing or just enjoying the river is already happening,” Mayor Genshaw said. “It just makes you wonder what it is going to be like when we get to Phase 2 and Phase 3.”
Sen. Carper likened Seaford’s project with the Wilmington Riverfront project in New Castle County he backed when he was governor. He noted upward of $70 to $80 million got it started.
“Now, it has taken off,” said Sen. Carper. “The reason why I mention that is because I like to say, ‘Find out what works and do more of that.’ That worked. This is going to work, too. Seaford has the potential to be elevated to a new level.”