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Wilmington residents call for historic dam protection while environmentalists work to protect fish species

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Wilmington residents call for historic dam protection while environmentalists work to protect fish species


After the city of Wilmington removed a Brandywine dam in 2019, University of Delaware scientists discovered American shad returning to the area to reproduce. One fish the researchers tracked even made its way to Nova Scotia, Canada, and back, said assistant professor Ed Hale, who helped lead the research.

“[Dams interrupt] normal behaviors associated with animals and organismal level behaviors, but also with the flow of energy,” Hale said.  “It’s really pretty cool that the year after we remove a dam, [we] actually see that natural function.”

Flood protection

In addition to improving fish passage, scientists say dam removal is sometimes necessary to reduce the impacts of storm flooding.

Removing dams that are damaged or falling apart is the top priority, said the University of Delaware’s Gerald Kauffman, who has researched the Brandywine dams for 20 years. Unlike neighboring states, Delaware law does not require regular inspection of smaller dams, said Kauffman, who directs the university’s Water Resources Center.

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One of the Brandywine River dams approved for removal is marred with a 10-by-30 foot hole. If it breaks during a major storm, an estimated 75 million gallons of water could topple downstream, Kauffman said. The researcher and professor said he’s particularly concerned about residents in northeast Wilmington — many of whom have yet to return to their homes after being flooded by Hurricane Ida in 2021.

“[Ida] was a lesson to me that we need to address [dams] now. Otherwise when the next [storm] comes down, it could be a catastrophe,” Kauffman said.

Environmental groups are working to restore fish passage along the Brandywine River in Wilmington. Dams prevent fish such as the American shad from migrating and reproducing. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Intact dams built before the 1980s also have potential to lift already-rising water levels upstream during storms, he said, depending on a number of factors.

The dam behind Brandywine Falls appears to be in healthy condition, Kauffman said, which could mean the Army Corps of Engineers recommends stakeholders preserve it.

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Brandywine Falls’ Ursomato said he would like agencies to focus on other flood-reducing infrastructure efforts instead of dam removal.

“Let’s assume you took all the dams out of the river, and the river still flooded … that would be a tragedy,” he said.

Preserving history

Brandywine Falls residents say they’re not against fish passage efforts, but are fearful they might lose a piece of Delaware history.

The dam is a remnant of Joseph Bancroft, a businessman who established a cotton mill in the area in the 19th century, taking advantage of the Brandywine’s water power.

Joseph Bancroft & Sons Co. is considered to be the most significant and longest lasting textiles company on the Lower Brandywine, according to University of Delaware historians. By the early 20th century, it became one of the world’s largest textile finishers, introducing synthetic materials to the market. Bancroft Mills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and may also include the dam behind Brandywine Falls.

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“I feel very impassioned about the history of the area, the famous families in this area,” said Brandywine Falls  resident Jim Carrington.

Brandywine Falls residents, Bob Hurka (right) and Jim Carrington (left) point towards a dam on the Brandywine River
Brandywine Falls residents, Bob Hurka (right) and Jim Carrington (left) are fighting to keep the colonial-era dam behind their homes. They say it should remain because of its historical significance, and because of the waterfall it creates. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Bancroft Mills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the dam behind Brandywine Falls is considered a “contributing element” of the historic district. The dam is eligible for an individual listing under the registry, but hasn’t been nominated, according to the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

A national register listing does not preclude a dam from removal. However, agencies involved, such as the Army Corps of Engineers are required to consult state historians and other stakeholders to determine whether the dam should be preserved due to its historical significance. If they decide a dam should remain, alternatives such as a partial removal, or a rock ramp, can be considered.

In addition to evaluating the structural condition of the dam behind Brandywine Falls, the Army Corps of Engineers will also consider its historical significance, and other fish passage options.

Hagley Museum and Library owns four dams on the Brandywine that were previously operated by the DuPonts. The famous family located their gunpowder mills along the river to take advantage of water power. The museum’s leaders have not granted permission for dam removal because they’re pursuing a historical designation for them.

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“The predominant use of the powder here at Hagley was used for things like westward expansion … and so it’s a really important chapter in the history of our country,” said Jill McKenzie, the museum’s executive director.

Hagley continues to use water power to this day to keep the museum’s 1870s machine shop off the electrical grid.

The museum is partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine an alternative way to improve fish passage without removing the dams, such as potentially installing a rock ladder.

David Keller, head of the fisheries section at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, said dam removal is sometimes the most effective way to improve fish passage. However, stakeholders must also evaluate potential risks, he said.



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Delaware

Delaware woman accused in sextortion plot to blackmail $6M from victims in US and UK

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Delaware woman accused in sextortion plot to blackmail $6M from victims in US and UK


A group including a woman from Delaware are accused of trying to blackmail young men and boys out of millions of dollars, after posing as young women and filming the victims engaging in sexual acts online.

The US Department of Justice announced Friday that Hadja Kone, 28, from Wilmington, had been arrested over her alleged role in the so-called sextortion scheme.

Ms Kone and other co-conspirators are accused of operating “an international, financially motivated” scheme which included cyberstalking, money laundering and wire fraud.

The group successfully blackmailed some of the thousands of victims across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada out of $1.7 million, but the goal was $6 million, the DOJ said.

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According to charging documents, Ms Kone and others, including Siaka Ouattara – a 22-year-old in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – posed as young, attractive females online.

They promised their victims sexual photos, videos or live webcam sessions, even though they were the ones operating the accounts.

Then, when the victims either exposed their genitals or performed other sexual activity, Ms Kone and others allegedly secretly filmed them.

Victims were then sent copies of those images or videos, with threats that they would be sent to the victim’s friends, family or employers, as well as being shared widely on the internet, unless they handed over money.

The DOJ alleges that Kone, Ouattara and others had a framework in place to launder the cash to people in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere overseas.

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Victims are often targeted through social media, according to the FBI (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ouattara was arrested in February on similar charges, with authorities in Côte d’Ivoire working with the FBI on the case.

Both are charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and to send interstate threats, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, money laundering, and wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years for each count.

In 2022, the FBI warned that sextortion cases affecting teenage boys had risen sharply, with some 3,000 reported victims that year alone.

Most victims were aged between 14 and 17, but could be as young as 10, the agency said.

One of those victims was Jordan DeMay, a 17-year-old in Michigan who took his own life after he was blackmailed by Nigerian men posing as a woman. They blackmailed him for $1,000.

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The boy only had $300 and was subjected to continued threats before he ended his life.

According to the FBI’s 2022 report, Jordan is not alone in feeling like this was his only option.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement at the time.

With much of this type of crime taking place on social media, Instagram owner Meta announced this week that it will test a nudity screening tool in its messaging apps.

The change would automatically blur nude photos for those under 18, with messages from the app reminding users they should not feel pressure to respond in kind.

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The option to message users who are under-age will also be removed for suspicious profiles, the company said.



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Woman dies after being found 'fused' to soiled bedsheets in Delaware County home

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Woman dies after being found 'fused' to soiled bedsheets in Delaware County home


A bedridden woman who police say was found “fused” to her soiled bedsheets inside a Delaware County home has died, officials say. 

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The gruesome discovery was made earlier this week during a police wellness check at a disheveled home on Dresner Circle in Upper Chichester.

Officers were called to the home after a neighbor reported packages piling up on the home’s front porch and no answer at the front door. 

Police saw a “large amount of trash” inside the home when they looked through the sliding glass door and noticed flies inside the property. 

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When officers entered the home fearing someone inside was deceased or having a medical emergency, they were met by 51-year-old Daniel Klien, the woman’s son. 

He lead officers through the messy home to the master bedroom where police say the woman was sleeping with a visibly soiled blanket covering her lower body. 

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Medics were called to the home and removed the blanket to find Klien’s mother “covered in dried feces and maggots,” according to police. 

They soon found her to be “fused to the bedsheets” and removed her for further treatment at Crozer Chester Medical Center.

Klien was arrested and charged with abuse of care and endangering another person.

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After 40 dogs seized in Delaware County, charges filed against breeder

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After 40 dogs seized in Delaware County, charges filed against breeder


The Delaware County dog warden has filed 30 misdemeanor charges against a dog breeder after 40 dogs living chained outside were removed Sunday afternoon from his property near Sunbury.

The charges, filed Thursday in Delaware County Municipal Court, accuse the man of violating Ohio’s laws about companion animals and failing to register dog kennels at the property on the 7400 block of Kilbourne Road.

A warrant is pending on the complaint, court records state, and his bond is set at $2,500.

All of the charges are first-degree and second-degree misdemeanors. The former each carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, and the latter each carry up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

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Delaware County Dog Warden Mitchell Garrett cannot comment on open cases, a spokesperson for the Delaware County Commissioners said in an email.

Garrett has previously said the 40 dogs were living outside on the property chained in wet and muddy conditions with plastic barrels for shelter against the weather, and that most of the dogs removed were underweight. Officials had received multiple complaints about the property since 2020, but were previously unable to act, according to Garrett.

Garrett said there were previously as few as six dogs living at the property and they were being taken care of within the standards of the law.

Read more: Delaware County dogs lived chained outside. Ohio doesn’t have a tether law, some cities do

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Authorities were able to secure a warrant after a witness came forward Friday willing to make a statement using their name, Garrett said.

Videos and images of the dogs chained outside went viral on social media on Saturday in between the recent complaint being made and authorities raiding the property.

jlaird@dispatch.com

@LairdWrites





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