Woodcrest residents vexed by nearby wetland site

Woodcrest neighborhood residents Kari and Chris Tollinger, Linda Goodnight at John Parker joined Dover City Councilmen David Anderson, Roy Sudler Jr. and Brian Lewis to express concerns publicly about a wetland mitigation site located at the entrance to the former Dover High School campus on Walker Road. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

DOVER — Does the City of Dover own it?

Or the Capital School District, perhaps?

As summer nears and temperatures rise, a wetland mitigation site located near the old Dover High School campus on Walker Road has some nearby Woodcrest neighborhood residents agitated, confused and holding their noses at times.

The locals have circulated a petition to fill in the waterhole and disperse the annoying mosquitoes living there, but it’s unclear who has authority to do the deed, if approved.

Nearby resident Kari Tollinger said problems began in 2014, when the high school closed and the vacant area became neglected. Besides the mosquitoes, she said chemicals sprayed to kill vegetation have dropped air quality, and unwanted critters have thrived.

“It’s devalued our property and become a danger to those who live around it,” Mrs. Tollinger said. “When you enter the neighborhood that’s the first thing you notice. There’s been a sinkhole problem, a daycare is nearby and groundhogs come into our yards constantly.

“We need to get rid of the thing but feel kind unsure of how that has to happen right now.”

Lori Goodnight is put off by “the smell” that comes from the area and laments that “nobody seems to know who owns the property, but somebody has to.”

A wetland mitigation site is located near the entrance to the Woodcrest neighborhood and former Dover High School campus on Walker Road. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

This week, City Councilman Roy E. Sudler Jr. said his research of tax parcel and zoning records indicate that the Capital School District owns the land.

School Board President Sean P. M. Christiansen, however, said that’s unclear the district has requested that the city provide all records associated with the property.

“We’re doing our due diligence and looking into this to find out who the rightful owner of it is and who’s responsible for maintaining it,” Mr. Christiansen said.

“We’ve been maintaining it for the past 14 years (through spraying and cutting down grass and weeds) because we are good neighbors.”

The school district points to a letter from a City of Dover assistant engineer in August 2014 indicating the municipality “has begun construction on work approved by the permit noted above and is requesting a time extension for the project.” The letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated the property involved was “the Dover High wetlands mitigation site.”

The project was managed to meet DNREC Division of Soil and Water Conservation Department recommendations and requirements and needed a erosion and sediment control plan approved, the engineer said.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Sudler presented the concerns to City Councilman Brian E. Lewis, chair of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Subcommittee of the Council Committee of the Whole. Mr. Lewis responded that “in my opinion this is an atrocity and citizens should not have to experience the health and safety concerns that they are now.”

Councilman David Anderson was also at the public grievance session and pledged to look into the matter as well.

“I think the school district wants to be a good neighbor but there was confusion about ownership, which we’re resolving,” Mr. Anderson said.
“There’s been some confusion that quite frankly, we as a city contributed to during previous communications.”

The area in question sits in Mr. Sudler’s Fourth District, and he said constituents contacted him for help in January. Two public meetings have been held since, including one attended by Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton.

“The main issue is that my constituents at Woodcrest have been neglected, their issues and concerns have been abandoned, since the school closed,” Mr. Sudler said, noting fallen trees and “foul-smelling” chlorophyll algae in the area.

“Debris piled up and the pond upkeep was neglected.”

Mr. Sudler believes that any assertion that the school district is “trying to be a beneficial neighbor” is in actuality “so far from the truth.”

Mr. Christiansen said the school district is open to meeting with anyone who wants to discuss the issue. Any decision to fill in the area must come from other entities such as DNREC and the Army Corps of Engineers, and he said the district would work with them if the situation arises.

The school district may construct a middle school on the property as well, and moving the management area is a favorable, Mr. Christiansen said.

“We’re always willing to listen to anyone wanting to voice their concerns and open to discussing possible solutions for something that affects the community that we are a part of,” he said.

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