Gamble and Stevens voice concerns, but defend support claiming it is too late to change course
Normally, a resolution to support a grant application to continue the development of a major public project is just a formality, barely noticed by the public. That is because most projects have a clear timeline, cost structure, and deliverables, all normally referenced in the application itself, and backed up by evidence that the project is on track towards its short- and long-term goals. That was not the case, however, for the resolution proposed for a application to the states Multimodal Transportation Fund (MTF) presented by the Kennett Trail Alliance (KTA) to the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT BOS) on Wednesday July 20, seeking another $1.5M grant towards the $5.5M Chandler Mill Trail (CMT) project.
Consider the glaring gaps in the resolution and accompanying materials presented at the KT-BOS meeting in a rush to meet the state’s deadline for MTF applications just 11 days later. The application:
Provided no information about the size of the local match (the RFP specifies a minimum of 30%)
Does not specify funds dedicated to already high design costs, which could drain local coffers still more. The RFP specifies a maximum of 10%, or $550k for the entire project, but the current CMT project is running almost twice that.
Leaves open the possibility that not a single foot of trail would be open to the public once the $1.5M grant has been spent.
Does not specify how much more money is needed to complete the overall $5.5M project, or offer any plan for obtaining those funds.
Offers no timeline for the completion of CMT, or the remaining 1.4 miles into the Borough of Kennett Square.
This kind of information is normally needed by local officials to gauge progress and the merits of continued investment in a major project. But not in Kennett, where supervisors appear determined to approve any proposal regardless of the plan, the budget, the timeline, or the actual deliverables. And they did so after virtually no debate, and completely ignoring important questions like those listed above that were posed prior to the vote. We disagree with this approach and so we begin to close this gap in another post by generating detailed projections of the overall cost of the western section of the Greenway - 2.8 miles likely costing $8.4-$12M and unlikely to be completed before 2030.
Given the struggles of the Greenway overall and of the CMT in particular, it is no surprise that KTA left these critical details out. Despite claims that a ‘final design” had been presented and approved in June 2021, the planned “completion” of the design and permitting - as well as the start of construction itself - has now been delayed by almost a year, with no explanation whatsoever. At least some of these delays appear due to the failure to anticipate roadway modifications to ensure cyclist safety, and to secure the private land needed. We expect that most would have expected these kinds of important details to have been resolved before pushing for approval of a "final design" last June that now appears to have been far from final.
Kennett Township Supervisor Richard Leff was also eager to suppress discussion of these gaps in the application. At the KT-BOS, he denied all requests to seek information about the overall status of the CMT project itself, repeatedly interrupting members of the public who sought any information reated to the overall plan, budget, or timeline. Instead, he sought to sow doubt about the credibility of those raising questions, or let former supervisor Whitney Hoffman do so herself through her public remarks.
These gaps raise concerns not just about this particular grant application, but of the 2.8 mile southwestern section that includes CMT, and the entire Greenway planning process itself. Leff refused to allow any concerns about overall claims of progress for the Greenway to be raised prior to the vote, pushing these concerns to the public comment period. In subsequent comments and a later email chain, Leff attempted to characterize the insistence on budgets, timelines, and deliverables as "paralysis by analysis" and those questioning progress as confused. In fact, broad projections that the entire Greenway would cost no less than $40M and not be completed before 2060 seem likely to raise important concerns among residents.
KTA appears to recognize the vulnerability of the proposal - and perhaps the Greenway itself. KTA continued their aggressive marketing of the Greenway through an application peppered with broad and often dubious claims, instead of critical details about overall cost, timelines, and deliverables. KTA marshaled letters of support from local residents and businesses, who are likely ignorant of the total cost, timeline, and likely outcomes. We also expect that at least some of those claiming support are not actually residents of the township and so will bear none of the $9M-$10M local tax burden for the Greenway.
After the resolution had been passed, Supervisors Stevens and Gamble acknowledged some concerns and expressed interest in alternatives. It was clear from their remarks that they felt locked in to the current proposal because of the money already committed to designs - almost a million dollars and counting. It remains to be seen, however, whether Stevens and Gamble would entertain a public discussion of alternatives, or would continue to allow Supervisor Leff and KTA to simply suppress anything except for blind trust in the plan and design.