Wicomico Taking Another Look At 235-Acre Land Donation

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County are reconsidering a land donation that was brought before the county council late last year.

In December, the Wicomico County Council voted to reject a 235-acre land donation from Connelly Mill Ltd. Partnership after an environmental study revealed potential pollution issues. The property, located next to the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex and within the City of Salisbury corporate limits, is valued at $1.06 million and consists of wooded parcels and two ponds.

The council, however, is now reconsidering the donation after additional environmental studies and a cost-benefit analysis of the property revealed a host of potential benefits to accepting the property.

In an open work session on Tuesday, Weston Young, the county’s assistant director of administration, told the council an owner-funded phase II study of the property and a state review of prior studies determined that heavy metal contamination that initially dissuaded the council from pursuing the donation was not a risk to public health.

“We sent the state, the Maryland Department of the Environment Land Restoration Program, all the studies associated with the site …,” he said. “It wasn’t a clean bill of health, but it does not pose a threat to public health.”

Weston said the larger issue, if the county should choose to accept the land donation, would be the recommended environmental insurance.

“It was suggested that the county consider acquiring an environmental insurance policy to protect the county from a possible cleanup,” he said.

While he noted the property has been used for farming, surface mining and, most recently, illegal ATV and dirt bike activity, Weston said he didn’t expect the county to need the insurance.

“The risk of a cleanup is low, if not very low …,” he said, “and the suggested insurance would be expensive and overkill.”

Attorney Steve Smethurst, who represents the property owners, estimated a 10-year insurance policy in one case he was involved in cost his clients $150,000.

“But the comparison of that situation to here is night and day,” he said. “There really is no risk here.”

Several members of the council, however, agreed a discussion on environmental insurance should be entertained.

“It seems to me if the risk of a cleanup is low, the environmental insurance should be pretty low too,” Councilman Marc Kilmer said.

Councilman Joe Holloway agreed.

“The insurance would be the prudent thing to do here …,” he said. “I think it’s a responsible thing to do for the citizens of the county.”

Young added a cost-benefit analysis of the property revealed that using the ponds on the property to collect soil for the Newland Park Landfill would be more economically feasible then buying soil from a private company, which is expected to cost $13 million.

“We estimated it would cost $5 million for solid waste to mine it in-house for eight years,” he said. “Even with a $200,000 insurance policy it’s cheaper than buying that soil elsewhere.”

The council also questioned the county’s ability to stop illegal activity taking place on the property. In a public comments portion of Tuesday’s council meeting, several residents of the nearby Shadow Hills neighborhood said the property was being used for dirt bike and ATV riding, bonfires, parties and more.

“It is a nuisance property right now,” said resident Scott Taylor. “The owners don’t seem to be able to do anything with it, despite their efforts to put up ‘no trespassing’ signs.”

The council and county staff agreed to hold further discussions on the issue.

county staff for their report on the property.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.