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Brandywine Dam 6 removal put on pause as city council tables construction easement resolution

Jon Hurdle
Delaware Public Media

Wilmington City Council pushes the pause button on a resolution that would green-light the removal of a dam in the Brandywine River.

Council tabled the resolution seeking approval of a construction easement to give state contractors and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the access needed to take down Dam 6 in the Brandywine

Dam removal is part of Brandywine River Restoration Trust’s mission to restore shad migration in the Delaware portion of the lower Brandywine.

Trust co-founder Jim Shanahan says it should also reduce flooding, noting some Northeast Wilmington residents still have not returned to their homes since Hurricane Ida flooded them out in 2021.

“We’re trying to do something about this," Shanahan says. "And against this, we have a handful of residents who want to look at a waterfall that was created over 100 years ago and serves no purpose.”

University of Delaware Water Resources Center director Jerry Kauffman says the dams were constructed 150 to 200 years ago and are now a safety risk – noting they contributed to severe flooding during Hurricane Ida in 2021.

“I was there at Ida on that day, September 2, I was there when it peaked," he says. "I scurried down the trail there and I saw what Ida did to that dam firsthand. It spilled over and it flooded out the experimental station and it caused a lot of damage. And so that dam is deteriorating, and Dam 6 is unsafe.”

Resolution sponsor Councilwoman Zanthia Oliver says council members received hundreds of emails and phone calls from citizens claiming they were not aware of the dam removal projects, despite the fact several dams were already removed in the last decade.

“They evidently didn’t even know this was taking place," Oliver says. "And the other group is saying, ‘How did you not know? Because we’ve been talking about this.’ But they never received notice, that’s what they’re saying.”

One person at Thursday night's meeting spoke in opposition to the resolution — Capano Residential Property Manager Rikki Dolor.

"I do believe the specific area is a breathtaking feature, a treasured part of our natural landscape," she says. "Its removal could lead to a loss of significant cultural and recreational assets that have been enjoyed by residents and visitors alike for many generations."

Dolor also claims the waterfall plays a vital role in maintaining ecological balance in the area.

Site leader for the DuPont Experimental Station Vere Archibald says the dam is of no use or purpose to anyone anymore.

"We consider the dam, at this point, a danger,
not only to the public but there is a danger to the experimental station," Archibald says.
"We suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage during Hurricane Ida because of the river flow over the dam. We'd like the river to be returned to its natural state and its natural level. The threat that the dam poses to the economic engine that is the Dupont Experimental Station is real and will only get worse with time and with global warming."

Karen Igou is Senior Program Manager for Community Engagement at Green Building United, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable and resilient development. She goes as far as to say not removing the dams is environmental racism.

"We have a group of uneducated white people who are using political will to harm the people of color who live in the areas that will be flooded out if this continues," Igou says.

Igou notes hundreds of thousands of dollars of research has gone into restoring the Brandywine, and urges people opposed to the dam removal to "listen to the scientists."

"We have way bigger problems than somebody's view," Igou says. "Harming people of color in our city that have enough on their hands, and also harming an endangered species that is the historical issue of this river, not the view."

Oliver says the resolution will return to the Public Works & Transportation committee next month on January 17th for further consideration.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.