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“We will have to look into that”: Ratliff’s empty promises to get a handle on the $5M Chandler Mill project

Many residents are beginning to wonder how we ended up with years of delays and skyrocketing costs for the $5M Chandler Mill Road (CMR) trail project. It turns out that one of the factors is the complete mismanagement of the project by KT Manager Eden Ratliff. Ratliff’s lack of interest in - or understanding of - the basic facts of the CMR project were on full display during an exchange at the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT BoS) meeting on February 16. A question was asked about why the width of the trail could not be narrowed from 6-8’ to as little as 3’ as needed to avoid trees and sensitive areas. Ratliff initially responded with “I believe that the path is only 4’ wide” but allowed himself to be corrected shortly afterwards by the KTA representative (you can read the question here).

Some context… The width of the proposed path alongside CMR has been one of the principle drivers of cost, comfort, delays, and environmental impact of the project.  The path initially funded as part of the 2017 grant was 8’ wide, narrowing to as little as 3’ whenever this helped prevent the need to cut down up to 100 mature and healthy trees, intrude on sensitive wetlands, or squeeze the path in when there was little room on the shoulder. Such a design is entirely consistent with state and federal standards for wheelchair access (once other criteria are met). KTA’s unilateral rejection of this proposal and insistence on a 10’ width path initially led to almost two years of delays, causing KT to nearly lose the grant. KTA now insists on a 6 -8’ wide path plus 2-4’ buffer, requiring the destruction of almost 300 trees at a total estimated project cost of $5M.  The width of the path has been a subject of some debate since October, with discussions intensifying over the past several weeks (go to our Kennett Greenway page and click on the timeline button for more details).

Back to Ratliff’s mismanagement…. After being corrected at the 2/16 KT BoS meeting, Ratliff proclaimed “We will look into that” (e.g., the benefits of narrowing the path as needed), an idea endorsed by the majority of supervisors. At a meeting of the Trails and Sidewalks Committee (TSC) just two weeks later, however, KTA summarily dismissed even just the idea of a plan to understand the potential benefits, cost-savings, and challenges of narrowing the path as needed. Ratliff did not even bother to show up (sending KTs finance director instead, who stayed quiet throughout most of the discussion), and clearly had never instructed KTA to “look into it”. Of course, it is possible that Ratliff never planned on “looking onto it” but was just looking to deflect still more public criticism of the CMR project. In any case, it hardly seems like the most effective management of one of KT’s most expensive projects.

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