LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Benefits of Kent County Sports Complex remain to be seen

There are many authors of success, and yet, no one claims a failure. That’s another interpretation of a quote from John Kennedy, who said about challenging the Soviet Union in Cuba that “Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.”

Gov. Markel, [U.S.] Sen. Tom Carper, Kent County [Levy Court] President Brooks Banta and Kent County [administrator] Michael Petit De Mange were all shoveling dirt signifying the beginning of what they hope will be the initiation of a great tourist draw to southern Kent County. [“S. Frederica Interchange construction begins,” article with photos, March 19] Largely through the efforts of Bill Strickland and other businessmen, the idea of a huge draw to Delaware was brought to fruition. Estimates of $30 million in economic benefit are talked about (note: that is not what the taxpayers get in return).

But will you hear from any of the above if it fails? Probably not.

For a long time I was like most Kent County residents: I really didn’t pay any attention to this project. I was interested in an overpass to alleviate the crashes that affected people I knew and cared about. Injured friends and two fatalities at intersections in Milford were much more important to me.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, I requested the crash data for all the intersections that competed for dollars — with the one in Milford. Surprising to me was the fact that the intersections I was concerned with had more injuries and crashes than those for which overpasses were planned. That’s Bowers Beach [Road], Thompsonville [Road], or very definitely more than the Sports Center intersections.

Through the efforts of [state] Sen. Simpson, then-Secretary of Transportation Bhatt came to a meeting at the Milford Library. After my briefing, he said “very impressive” about the statistics which clearly showed our need for an overpass.

As a follow-up, I went to the Transportation Advisory group to advocate for the project. What shocked me when I got there was, our representative, as well as others on the group, was advocating for the overpass at the Sports Center. Secretary Bhatt said the “Decision Lens” program for assigning priorities did not give the Sports Center priority since “economic development” did not override safety.

Showing the ability for political influence to override the safety of Delaware residents, as soon as Secretary Bhatt left for a job in Colorado, the priority changed, and so, the overpass is being constructed to support the Sports Complex.

In an effort to stop the change in where the overpass went next, I started to take an interest in the basis for the Sports Complex. There are all kinds of money being thrown at this project.

Beginning with the feasibility study justifying the complex, I began to study the facts behind this project. First, the study is absent a projected cash flow to pay the debt service on the construction. No problem: the county has allocated $1.4 million to pay the debt service. The county gave the Sports Center a piece of land adjacent to the sewer plant (that land was bought to disperse the effluent as fertilizer from the plant if needed).

Recent landowners have been objecting to land now being bought to accomplish that same need, so, the taxpayers end up paying double for that capability.

Delaware Economic Development, a state agency, gave this project $3 million; USDA gave the project $6 million. The overpass will cost about $18 million. The county procured land on the west side of [Del.] Route 1 to facilitate the overpass on that side — don’t know the cost there.

The M&T Bank is financing the “municipal bond” project for about $15 million. And the county says it really isn’t obligated to guarantee the bonds — but somehow appropriated money to pay the initial debt service. So, to satisfy the great economic boondoggle of a Sports Complex, the taxpayers have risked over $40 million financing this project.

Remember all the authors of success — see if they are around if this thing fails to deliver all the economic benefits. And remember, the beneficiaries of this project revenue are the businesses that host the players and their families — they have been given more support than Dover Downs, and they are not obligated to give 24 percent of their profits to the state or the county.

Emmett Venett

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