Milford interested in buying Rookery golf course for water

MILFORD — The city is considering buying The Rookery North golf course, not because it’s interested in running a country club, but to assist with water supply on that side of Milford.

City Manager Mark Whitfield said shallow wells on the course may provide the solution to water woes in the growing southeast section of the city.

Regarding that possibility, council discussed the prospect of purchasing the course in an executive session Monday, after which they agreed to move $35,000 from the water reserve fund to explore the project.

In 2016, two new wells went online under a water tower between Del. 30 and Del. 1, south of Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, but Mr. Whitfield said they’re not as productive as the city had hoped.

Mark Whitfield

“The two wells combined only produce about 150 gallons of water a minute, and one well is actually high in iron to the point that we have to run both wells at the same time to keep the iron levels down,” he said.

“We have since actually turned off the well that’s higher in iron because we had some water-quality issues,” Mr. Whitfield said. “Right now, we have a well that’s producing about 80 to 90 gallons a minute, and we have a 750,000-gallon tank.”

He said at that rate it would take almost a week to fill up the water tower, so the city has been bringing water from other sources to its southeast section.

“Our other wells are producing anywhere from 300 to 500 gallons a minute,” Mr. Whitfield said. “That’s what you should be getting out of a good well production.”

He said that for the city to run the southeast part of its water system independently, as it aims to, it would need an additional 600 to 1,200 gallons of water per minute.

“We had a hydrogeologist come in this past spring,” Mr. Whitfield said, to see where Milford can “drill a well in the southeast part of the city that will give us the water production that we need.”

But it was discovered that area of town is not well-suited to a single large well.

“The way the structure is under the ground, anything south of the Mispillion River to Ellendale is not a good location to drill deep wells,” Mr. Whitfield said, adding that the hydrogeologist recommended “going to a series of shallow wells in order to get the water production that we need.”

“The Rookery has this series of shallow wells on it,” he said. “When we heard that the property may become available, we said we ought to at least look at whether these wells can be used, and if not these wells, then can we use the property to create a well field?”

Mr. Whitfield said the course’s current owners know the city is interested in the property.

“We’ve been in discussions with the property owners. They know what our interests are,” he said. “We have KCI, an engineering firm, doing some investigation on the well permits.”

In August, The Rookery suddenly announced that its northern course in Milford would close at the end of 2020, upsetting the local golf community.

But Mr. Whitfield said the city has absolutely no interest in running a golf course.

“What I talk to council about is if we were to have a golf course, it would be leased out,” he said. “The city can determine what they want to do with the property.”

Mr. Whitfield said he has reasons to believe the land would work well for the city’s Public Works Department.

“It’s nice in that it’s right along Rehoboth Boulevard,” he said. “We can go right down Route 30 to our treatment facility at the tower and put water directly in the tower, or we can build a treatment facility right on The Rookery property and treat it and put it in the system.”

But Mr. Whitfield made it clear that the city was merely looking into buying the land. It has not made any commitments and could end up deciding not to buy the course.

“There’s a lot of ifs here. I’m leery of getting people excited about this, because it may not work out,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions that have to be answered before the city even makes an offer.”

He said the city is exploring questions like: “Can we get good water production out of that property? Can we use the existing wells or will we have to drill new wells? What’s the cost of doing all that? Prior to making any kind of a formal offer or negotiations, we need time to be able to investigate all of that.”

Reach staff writer Noah Zucker at