SALISBURY – A waterfront park in Wicomico will expand with the acquisition of neighboring property.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted 6-0, with Councilman Bill McCain abstaining, to acquire three parcels along Cove Road for the purposes of demolishing existing buildings and converting the land back into public open space. Marilyn Williams, the county’s land development coordinator, noted the purchase would allow Wicomico to expand Cove Road Beach, a shoreline park along the Nanticoke River.
“FEMA wants us, and really any municipality that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, to go after properties like this …,” she said. “It really started out as doing something to remove these structures from the flood insurance program and stop all the repetitive damage to the properties. It never really started out as an acquisition of the Cove Road property.”
Officials noted the three parcels, totaling 29 acres, contained two homes. Williams said the prior owner had initially worked with the county to secure Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants for the purpose of raising his home.
“His house would flood, and it was becoming more frequently flooded with all of the higher-than-normal tides,” she explained.
While the owner passed away in 2018, Williams said the county has since received a $188,819 grant from FEMA and a $67,750 grant from Program Open Space to acquire the parcels, remove the existing buildings and convert the property into public open space.
“This is a frequent flooding property and frequently has insurance claims against it,” she said.
In a public hearing this week, nearby residents came before the county council to support the proposed acquisition. Cove Road resident John Laferty noted that the expansion of Cove Road Beach was needed.
“I think the county would be foolish not to purchase those houses, would be foolish not to expand the beach,” he said. “That beach is enjoyed by countless residents in Wicomico County.”
Nanticoke Road resident Frank Tobat agreed.
“Our beaches are overcrowded …,” he said. “This property is available once in a lifetime. There will be no other opportunity. We can’t let it go by … Forty years ago, nobody knew about that beach. Now, everybody knows about it, and it’s well used.”
Bivalve resident Judith Stribling, chair of the Natural Resources Conservation Advisory Committee (NRCAC), encouraged the county to address traffic concerns as it looks to expand the park.
“At this point, a number of my neighbors feel this park has been a great burden to the citizens because of the incredibly large amount of traffic, the large numbers of people that use the park, and very frequently in the summer exceed the parking limit,” she said. “Adding parking to this system will help to some degree but will still encourage a lot of traffic and an influx of people into that area.”
Stribling also highlighted complaints about dune crossings.
“Management of this beach is very important,” she said. “Wicomico County has over 100,000 residents. Tiny Cove Beach seems to be the priority beach for the whole county.”
Resident Bob Gordan agreed the county needed to examine the beach’s dune system.
“The people just park and will walk right across the dunes,” he said. “There are trails across the dunes, and that’s what’s tearing down the grass.”
Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Steve Miller said his department would work with the community to address environmental and management concerns.
“Should this go forward, and we acquire the property, we will continue to work with the neighbors and folks like the NRCAC to get feedback,” he said.
After further discussion, the council voted unanimously to acquire the three parcels and remove the two homes. The council also voted to accept grant funding from FEMA and Program Open Space.