After more than 15 years of planning, Wilmington’s Southbridge neighborhood celebrated the official opening of a $26 million wetland park.
The park is not just a place for relaxation and recreation, but also holds a 20-acre stormwater management facility and restores 14 acres of wetlands. The wetlands area will increase stormwater capacity and reduce tidal flooding that frequently occurs on nearby streets, affecting about 1,000 residents in the south section of the city.
Just as importantly, the tidal wetlands will restore about 62 species creating an ecosystem that include sunfish, heron, egrets, dragonflies, and turtles.
The project’s development has focused on environmental justice, said U.S. Chris Coons of Delaware. He pointed to the history of Southbridge, which like many other communities, became more polluted as American cities became more industrialized.
Before the park, Wilmington public works commissioner described the area as “this horrible piece of contaminated property with a lot of contaminated PCBs.”
A total of 8,200 truck loads of contaminated soil was removed from the location as a result.
Local residents said it was past time for a solution to be developed to help reduce flooding in those neighborhoods. Many said they were sick of using sandbags as protection.
“We would get a phone call from our executive director to come and put sandbags in front of the building because it flooded over on B Street. That’s just unconscionable, and it is an environmental justice issue,” said Raheemah Jabbar-Bey, a 40-year Wilmington resident and vice president of the board of Southbridge Community Development Corporation. “So to see that come to fruition is really important.”
For neighbors living on streets that surround the park — A Street, Walnut Street, and Garasches Lane — the new site will offer better walking accessibility and recreational activities. The 1,800-foot handicap accessible route through the park will make it easier for locals to go to the nearby shopping center.
Getting a wetland park to fix the flooding problems has been a focus of community leaders since at least the year 2000. Former City Council President Hanifa Shabazz said change starts with the people. “We as a community have to come to the table and tell them what our needs are and advocate for this. And this is what it looks like because Southbridge did it.”
City leaders say the work to control flooding and stormwater capacity in the area is not yet complete. They plan to work quickly on a sewer separation project that is expected to be completed at the end of 2023.