On Friday, October 7th, Delaware elected officials gathered in downtown Seaford to explore the city’s innovative green infrastructure practices as part of the Alliance’s first Wandering Delaware’s Waterways walking tour.

Neighboring the Nanticoke River, one of the most pristine tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, the historic city of Seaford, Delaware continues to redevelop with local character and clean water in mind – making it the perfect place to start.

In collaboration with the Sussex County Association of Towns, Delaware League of Local Governments,  and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), the Wandering Delaware’s Waterways event convened just over 30 local elected officials representing nearly 15 of the state’s counties and municipalities including Seaford Mayor David Genshaw and Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent. Also in attendance were United States Senator Tom Carper (from Delaware), State Senator Bryant Richardson, and State Representative Daniel Short.

“Once you got into this job [as an elected official], hopefully you were enlightened – no matter who you are, flooding affects everyone,” exclaimed Don Phillips, LGAC Member and former councilmember of the Town of Laurel, as he addressed the group. “Promise to educate yourselves as leaders and get to know your resources. As decision-makers, the environment has to become a priority and not just an afterthought.”

From the downtown center to the river, elected officials explored:

  • Stormwater management systems strategically placed along roadways, such as the bustling “Conwell Street,” that experienced a significant amount of flooding. These systems reduce flood risk by capturing the flow of stormwater, beautify the streets they adorn, and capture any harmful nutrients that would ultimately drain into the Nanticoke nearby. 

  • The Seaford Riverwalk along the Nanticoke waterfront. This 450-foot boardwalk not only provides the community with access to the water, but introduces a parallel living shoreline and signage to learn more about the river and its history. Plans for the extension of the Riverwalk are underway, however its establishment will also inspire significant developments to Oyster House Park, where it originated, in the coming years.

Seaford Riverwalk. Photo courtesy of the City of Seaford.

Elements of these initiatives were done in collaboration with local, state, and federal partners, but community support and buy-in was especially significant. Trisha Newcomer, Director of Economic Development and Community Relations for the city of Seaford, explained that various projects invited residents to be involved in the planning processes. Greening Conwell Street, for example, was designed with safety in mind as many community members faced anxieties over damage to local businesses, traffic patterns and pedestrian vulnerability. 

On the other hand, the Riverwalk project is a great example of how green initiatives can provide local communities with multiple investment returns. In addition to the subsequent environmental benefits of the project, Newcomer explained how the Riverwalk will also allow for increased ability to recreate on the Nanticoke, including but not limited to, access to its boating and fishing docks, but also enhance the community’s respect for the waterway. Investing in the environment as well as sustainable outdoor recreation can favorably stimulate the local economy and development.

“Within our county – Sussex County, 3 or 4 communities have done these “riverwalks” and they sort of have become outdoor   community centers that focus people’s activity and attention on them,” said Phillips. “Laurel has completed a project like this and within a year, 40 different community improvements happened within 1 block of the project. People see something happening, they want to be a part of it and they feel good when their neighbors are doing it too! [Projects like these] have become a real community focus while also bringing nature to the forefront of their minds as well as the minds of the elected officials.”

The Alliance’s Wandering Waterways series are peer-to-peer learning and exchange opportunities for local elected officials with a goal to increase local officials’ capacity to undertake actions that protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and build relationships across jurisdictions.

The series hopes to revisit Delaware in 2023. 

Watch the full recap video of the Wandering Delaware’s Waterways tour, provided by the Delaware League of Governments, here!