Residents: Pa. Ave. project could harm neighborhood

By Lynn R. Parks

A federally-mandated project to separate sewer and storm-water pipes along Pennsylvania Avenue will soon get under way. But some residents along the main east- west thoroughfare are concerned that the construction will damage the look of the neighborhood.

"I enjoy the neighborhood the way it is," said Cindy Carlton, who lives at 308 Pennsylvania Ave. "I don't want to see it torn up." Chris Vane, who bought the house at 302 Pennsylvania Ave. in November, said that residents of the area do not object to the project itself. "We understand that it is mandatory," he said. He does object, however, to the city's plans to separate the waste system where it lies now: under the curb and gutter on the north side of the street. He would rather see new pipes put in down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue in order to minimize damage to area yards. "I want the city council to look at alternatives [to the current plan]," he said. "And when they vote, I just hope they remember their constituents."

According to city manager Dolores Slatcher, Pennsylvania Avenue's is the last of seven waste pipes the city has to separate into two. The federal Environmental Protection Agency started mandating such action in the 1980s.

Normally, Slatcher said, all water and sewage that runs through the system goes through the city's wastewater treatment plant and on into the Nanticoke River. But when the area receives heavy rains, the wastewater treatment plant cannot handle the volume of waste. The plant is then bypassed and the waste - rainwater as well as sewage - goes right into the river. Creation of two separate systems would allow the sewage to still go to the wastewater treatment plant and the storm water to go into the river.

Slatcher said that the city has until Sept. 1, 2001, to separate the drain system. It has received a $600,000 federal grant for the project, as well as a $150,000 state grant for repaving Pennsylvania Avenue. The city's engineering firm, George, Miles and Buhr, Salisbury, Md., has already designed a system for the north side of the street. The city council will vote at its next meeting whether to go with that plan or whether to put a new, 24-inch pipe down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue to carry storm water (sanitary sewer would use the existing pipe). Both plans have advantages and disadvantages, Slatcher said.

The curbside plan would be a "less intense" project, she said. She also estimates that it would cost about $15,000 less than the "center-line" plan. "But on the negative side, we would lose 10 trees and have to relocate one tree," she said. The city would replace the trees lost, she added. "But they would not be what they are now," said Carlton. "There is also a concern about the plantings in people's yards, that they might be interfered with," Slatcher added. The city is willing to have plant experts from the University of Delaware look at existing plants, she said, to determine whether their roots would withstand the project. Those plants would include the many boxwoods that outline Vane's yard and sidewalk and that date to 1927, the year his house was constructed.

Vane said that while boxwoods have shallow roots and therefore should not be disturbed by deep digging, they could be harmed by heavy equipment running over their roots or even over them. "It does not appear that [workers] would have to come in the yard," he said. "But they would run equipment on the sidewalk and we have no assurances regarding the boxwoods."

Vane added that he feels the city is concerned about maintaining traffic flow along the street. A similar project along High Street, which connects with Pennsylvania Avenue at the railroad bridge, disrupted downtown traffic for several months. "My response to that is that we've had a lot of traffic disruption and we realize that's a problem," he said. "But either way they do it, there will be some traffic disruption." Slatcher said that if the city decides to put a new line down the center of the street, it will be done block by block.

Side streets in the area are not one-way - many of the narrow downtown streets are one-way, which caused confusion when High Street was torn up - and creating detours around Pennsylvania Avenue construction would not be difficult. "This would not affect downtown traffic," she said. "It doesn't appear to me that it would be any more trouble to put this out in the street," said Vane."

"An extra $15,000 is not much in a project of this size. And this is not just about our house. We want to make sure that there is the least damage to people's front yards as possible."

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