SEAFORD — The linchpin to the second phase in the city’s Oyster House Park project is buried along the Seaford Riverwalk.
It’s not buried treasure but an aging yet critical sewer line, which must be replaced with a larger line on higher ground along the new park nestled along the Nanticoke River.
Therefore, Phase 2, which includes an outdoor amphitheater and other amenities, is on indefinite hold, according to Chesapeake Conservancy Board Chair Randall Larrimore.
“There is no reason for us to start beautifying the land and putting in the amphitheater and other stuff that we want to do until they move the sewer line, because obviously they would take apart everything we put together,” said Mr. Larrimore. “We don’t have any insight into when they are going to actually start construction and make that happen.”
The sewer project will take time and money. Lots of money.
“It is an extremely expensive project,” said Seaford Mayor David Genshaw.
“That cost the last time we had it estimated, which has been a year or more ago, was about $1.4 million. So it is a big nut to crack,” said City Manager Charles Anderson. “We are pursuing funding for it.”
Mr. Anderson said the city, through economic development director Trish Newcomer and the Chesapeake Conservancy, is working on an Economic Development Administration grant submission for possible state and/or federal assistance that “could help us to do that. Those kinds of grants, those kinds of submissions take time,” Mr. Anderson said.
The sewer project will entail moving the new interceptor line upslope several feet.
“That is a necessary piece of this project, which has been known. We have needed to do that all along,” Mr. Anderson said. “Years ago, sewers just ran down the street out into the river. In 1954, the city ran an interceptor sewer and intercepted all of those lines — a big one, 18 inches in diameter — and then we built the treatment plant. That is when we got into the treatment business.”
Mr. Anderson added, “Infrastructure is not glamorous. We bury it. Not only is it not glamorous, but we’re also only moving it four or five feet. Again, we are upsizing from 18 inch to 24 inch for future growth and capacity.”
“That is probably a year project,” said Mr. Larrimore. “Everybody agrees that it has got to be done. There is no argument about doing it. It is just when and getting the money to do it. Once they finish moving the sewer so that we can proceed, it will take us probably a year to put the amphitheater in, and that is the biggest part.”
Oyster House Park, located at 201 South Cannon Street 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 the City Council in February 2020. That plan focused on enhancing access to the Nanticoke River along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
Phase 1 included extension of the Seaford Riverwalk, creating fishing nooks, a performance deck, boat docking facilities, a kayak launch and bulkhead stabilization.
The project cost $1.2 million, funded through a mix of private and public resources, including state transportation funding allocated by State Rep. Daniel Short and State Sens. Brian Pettyjohn and Bryant Richardson.
Additional funding came from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the State of Delaware Community Reinvestment Fund, the Crystal Trust, Longwood Foundation, Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, Welfare Foundation and REI.
Phase 2 of the project is expected to cost between $1.1 million and $1.4 million. Plans also call for completion of road drainage improvements to address runoff from historic downtown Seaford, and construction of an oyster house.
“Although it will be a little nicer than most oyster houses. We want to try to keep kind of that theme because of the oyster houses that have been built on that land previously,” said Mr. Larrimore. “We’re hoping that we finish the Phase 2 in 2023 but that is probably optimistic.”
Phase 2 recently received a $150,000 boost from the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, in support of the plans which include the amphitheater that will seat 75 with an overflow of about 200 more on the lawn. The amphitheater will pull duty as a community outdoor classroom, gathering space for performances and as erosion control addressing runoff from steep banks.
Mr. Larrimore said the Chesapeake Conservancy is hopeful additional funding will come from Seaford’s state legislators, other potential grant/foundation sources as well as support from businesses and individuals in Seaford and western Sussex County.
“As we do for all these kinds of things, we scramble to find the money. We work quite closely with the senators of Delaware, Carper and Coons,” said Mr. Larrimore. “As a Seaford native and watching what happened to the town after the nylon plant closed, and now that I am retired, I have devoted a lot of time and energy in trying to help Seaford.”
When completed, Mr. Larrimore believes the park will be a huge draw. He said there is even interest in converting the old power plant along the river into a brewpub or a restaurant, showcasing some of the historic equipment and artifacts.
“Right now, I think the park is drawing some people and interest downtown. It is a beautiful walkway in my opinion,” Mr. Larrimore said. “That is our dream, that we build this performance park and everything, and that encourages someone to develop a restaurant somewhere nearby. That would be a home run for the city of Seaford.”