A reported sweetheart deal between two Sussex County developers and the Department of Transportation has residents and legislators questioning why state money is paying the mortgage on private properties.


A reported sweetheart deal between two Sussex County developers and the Department of Transportation has residents and legislators questioning why state money is paying the mortgage on private properties.

“It just doesn’t seem like a fair arrangement, and there is a lot of outrage,” said Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro.

At issue is approximately $2 million DelDOT has paid to developers for land that may be used for a bypass in 15 to 20 years. It has been reported that DelDOT agreed to pay $50,000 a month to the developers of Patriots Landing LLC that include Robert W. Tunnell Jr., Carl T. Bochau III, Robert Tunnell III and Charles Carmack. Another $10,000 a month is being paid to the developers of The Moorings at Pepper’s Creek, which includes Preston Schell, the Horsey family and the Kollock family.

Calls left for the Tunnells at their businesses were not returned.

Most of the concern regarding the arrangements stems from the substantial amount of public money being spent to prevent development during a time when the economy itself is stalling many builders, Atkins said.

He also said his constituents are upset that wealthy developers are receiving money, but local farmers and other landowners along the proposed route are not.

The Department of Transportation has been working for over half a decade on an alternate route that would branch off of Route 113 between Georgetown and Millsboro to the east and then reconnect to the highway near Selbyville.

Recent allegations, however, have many ready to protest further action on the road.

“Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much support for this bypass,” Frankford Town Manager Terry Truitt said. “As of right now, we are neither for or against the project, but we are concerned for both residents of the town and those who live on the outskirts.”

Officials with DelDOT neither confirmed nor denied the amount of the payments that had been made to developers, but spokesman Mike Williams said a policy review regarding such payments is being conducted and will be completed by Jan. 7.

“As of right now, there is a review being done by the governor’s chief of staff and [DelDOT] Secretary [Carolann] Wicks,” Williams wrote in an email. “That review will determine if the reservation agreements are appropriate and acceptable arrangements.”

Atkins, who is not necessarily in favor of a bypass, did offer a solution to DelDOT regarding moving the route. Instead of its current placement, which would require expensive bridges to be built to cross the Indian River as well, Atkins suggested that the northern section of the bypass be moved to land already owned by the state near Sussex Central High School and the Stockley Center.

“We live in a resort destination, no matter where you build new roads traffic has to end up somewhere. It’s just something we all know we are going to have to deal with when living here,” he said. “But, if we feel the need to have this bypass, why not have it built on land we already own instead of paying for new land and spending money to keep developers from building?”

Williams, however, said that the current bypass plan has already been “’moved’ due to complex environmental concerns.”

“The current alignment plan is the least impactful option,” Williams wrote in an email. “Federal agencies responsible for granting permits for road construction have stated that permits would never be granted if the alignment was kept in the former route.”

 

Jeff Mitchell is a staff writer for the Sussex Countian, a sister paper of the Dover Post. Email Jeff Mitchell at jeff@sussexcountian.com