[caption id="attachment_235023" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Dover/Kent MPO Executive Director Marilyn Smith talks about an ongoing statewide rail study to help identify potential industrial and agribusiness uses in the future. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
DOVER — More than a year after completing an inventory of Kent County land with access to rail, the Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization is now leading efforts for a statewide rail study.Last week, Dover/Kent MPOExecutive Director Marilyn Smith updated regional transportation and area planners on efforts her office is leading in a rail land use study that would highlight viable parcels of land in Delaware for future economic development. The Winter Freight Meeting was organized by the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration and hosted at Chesapeake Utilities’ Dover campus.Delaware has roughly 263 miles of commercial and freight rail line, and with the support of state officials, all the 1,600 parcels of land that could be considered viable for economic development will be mapped and cataloged. A final report is scheduled to be released by next summer.“One of the things we’re finding from a land use perspective is that land along the rail is getting gobbled up fast. This is about balance and fundamentally good planning. Once you build the house, it will likely be there forever,” Smith told stakeholders. “As planners, we should really be finding ways to utilize that rail in a broader effort to balance how it fits in the best way.”Smith and the Dover/Kent MPO finished a Kent County Rail Corridor Land Use Study, sponsored by the Kent Economic Partnership, in 2022 to highlight areas ripe for commercial and industrial development. In addition to the study, an interactive mapping tool that also shows potential infrastructure access on the land.
[caption id="attachment_235024" align="alignleft" width="185"] The Dover/Kent MPO has already mapped viable parcels of land for rail preservation in Kent County, but there are still scores of miles left to map in the rest of the state. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DOVER/KENT MPO[/caption]
Since then, the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination took notice of the Dover/Kent MPO report. The state agency named maintaining commercial and industrial use along the rail corridor — and incentivizing municipalities to keep it zoned that way — as one of the top priorities in its annual report. With Delmarva Central Railroad as the operator of freight rail, the primary cargo shipped through the First State is stone and concrete for road construction, soybeans and feed ingredients for poultry production as well as propane to heat chicken houses on the peninsula.But Smith noted that rail is rising on site selector’s lists for property amenities in recent years. The Delmarva Corrugated Packaging plant off Delaware Route 15 that was quick to build a rail spur to ship in materials, and Mountaire Farms has proposed a feed mill in Bridgeville that would hold 100 rail cars on the land.Delmarva Central Railroad Chief Marketing Officer Cliff Grunstra said that rail freight translates to 80% fewer emissions than trucking, and his company moves the equivalent of 250,000 trucks per year on the Eastern Shore. Much of that is the grains used in chicken feed shuttled from the grain elevators on the fields to the processing plants.“The agricultural side of business is growing, and it's an important piece of our economy. We’ve invested more than $1 million in rail cars with covered hoppers to carry grain, and we’ve been very successful in converting thousands of truckloads per year in grain [to rail] on the Shore,” he said in a presentation on his company’s operations. “It’s something we’re continuing to grow and it’s something that a majority of my active projects are related to.”The Kent County Rail Corridor Land Use Study eventually outlined 3,600 acres of land that would be considered for potential industrial development, which means it’s not targeted for preservation and encompasses at least 7-acre parcels. But since Kent County is the smallest county in the state with 56 miles of active freight railroad line, it’s a small piece of a larger picture.The statewide study plans on covering 75 miles of rail from Porter in New Castle County south to Kent County and the entire rail corridor in Sussex County, estimated to be 120 miles. It will also include a detailed analysis of comprehensive plans on a county and municipal level and where freight rail uses are considered — and whether they should be.When the study is complete, it should also provide a similar summary of each qualified parcel of land that will include: acreage, zoning, tax identification number, groupings of area and utilities.“We can move goods more efficiently and more effectively and with less impact on the environment if you utilize trails that exist right in our backyard,” Smith told stakeholders. “Rail has been here since the 1800s and it’s not going away. … Part of what the state planning office is interested in is seeing this as an important use, but [freight] may not come for 10 years. So what can we do to incentivize holding onto that land for future industrial agricultural use?”
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