Yacht Club: RR bridge impedes access to river

Blades mayor joins fight to have bridge open for boats year-round
By Lynn R. Parks

During the summer months, boats can travel the length of the Nanticoke River, Chesapeake Bay to Concord, unimpeded. Provided they are no taller than 55 feet, they can slide under the bridges at Vienna, Md., and Sharptown, Md., through the railroad and Blades Causeway bridges at Seaford and keep going as long as the water holds out.
But in the winter months, it is a different story. And that upsets members of the Nanticoke Yacht Club as well as proponents of a Blades marina, the mouth of which would be about 500 feet upriver from the bridge.
According to the Coast Pilot Book, in which are written federal regulations regarding all waterways, from Oct. 1 through April 30 the railroad bridge at the foot of New Street, Seaford, need be open to river traffic only if four hours notice is provided to the rail company. Oth-
erwise, the bridge, owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, is closed to river traffic and open to rail traffic."We would like to see all our waterways accessible along their entire lengths," said Phil Livingston, newly-elected commodore of the 220-member yacht club. "We do not like that it is limited by a private corporation and its bridge."
"Boat traffic along there in the winter is non-existent," said Rudy Husband, spokesman for the railroad, which took over the bridge from Conrail in June.
"We have a half a dozen trains that use that track every day, carrying grain, feed and fuel that supports the ag industry on the Delmarva Peninsula. We are extremely valuable to the businesses we serve on the peninsula."
Husband added that a short line owned by the Maryland and Delaware Railroad also uses the track that crosses the bridge.

Livingston and B. J. Hardin, mayor of Blades, have contacted the US Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va., requesting that the regulation be rewritten.
"The drawbridge that goes from Seaford to Blades will hold up [vehicular] traffic for anything going on the river, I don't care if it is a pumpkin seed," Hardin said. That bridge is operated by the Delaware Department of Transportation.
"The state recognizes that river traffic must be allowed to get through," added Livingston. "Here is a private corporation that is saying, 'This is our bridge and we will do as we please.' That is not in the flavor of the times."
Terrance Knowles, environmental protection specialist with the Portsmouth Coast Guard office, said that in making access decisions such as these, the Coast Guard looks at the entire transportation picture, "giving a little leeway to the land side. We want to make sure that the waterways are open, but we can't make a road block on land."
He added that regulations requiring that a bridge be open on command to river traffic is "standard, in general." But there are individual regulations for every bridge, he said, and those concerning this bridge were "probably written a long time ago."
Knowles said that there are options concerning the railroad bridge:
It can be open to river traffic all the time, closing only when a train is passing (because the bridge turns on a pivot to open, the safety of its remaining in an open position would have to be determined, he said); or it can be open year-round to river traffic on demand.
He added that the Coast Guard would like to see the town of Blades, the yacht club and the railroad negotiate a compromise agreeable to all. "We could make sure that negotiations for a compromise don't stall out," he said.
U.S. Sen. William Roth's office has also been contacted by Hardin and Livingston. According to Roth spokesman Jim Courtney, the senator is working to insure that local concerns reach the ears of the Coast Guard.
"It's the Coast Guard's call," said Courtney. "But we can make sure that concerns are heard and that a decision is made in a timely manner. Senator Roth believes that a solution can be achieved that maintains the viability of the railroad and at the same time provides for the development of the marina and for increased boat traffic flow."
Any decision by the Coast Guard concerning the yacht club's request is on hold, Knowles said, pending finalization of the marina permits. Any proposed changes would be published for public input before being enacted. If all permits are received by spring, he said, new regulations could be in place by the end of the summer.
"If there is a traffic change, or if it is demonstrated that the four-hour advanced call is not sufficient, then we would comply with the regulations," said Husband.