County proceeding with study for regional sewer

By Lynn R. Parks

Sussex County expects to sign a contract by the end of the year for a study on the feasibility of a county sewer system along the U.S. 13 corridor. County administrator Robert Stickels said that the study, to be done by Whitman, Requart and Associates, Baltimore, will take about a year to complete. "We will be looking at the needs for a regional sewer in western Sussex," Stickels said. Such a system could cost about $82 million, he said. The system could include collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater. The study will show what kind of system would be most beneficial. The county recently asked western Sussex communities for comments regarding the construction of the regional sewer treatment system. Stickels said that Greenwood, Bridgeville, Seaford and Laurel all indicated that they were interested in seeing what the study would show. On Monday, Delmar had yet to respond to the request for comment. Mike O'Gara, town manager for Greenwood, said that his town would "wholeheartedly support" a county system, if the study showed that that was the most effective and cost-efficient way to manage waste. Greenwood currently sends its waste to the Bridgeville plant for treatment; that plant discharges the treated waste into a tributary of the Nanticoke River. A regional system "seems to make sense for everybody," O'Gara added, "rather than a piecemeal system."But Glenn Steckman, city manager for Laurel, said that his town is opposed to a regional sewer system. "We believe that the county should focus on working with municipalities to help offset the increase in costs for construction of new or upgrades to existing plants," he said. In addition, "the county should direct growth to municipalities and annexation growth areas, and let the towns manage growth and economic development."Steckman expects construction on Laurel's new $11 million wastewater treatment plant and pumping stations to begin the end of November. That project is being funded by a mixture of state and federal grants and bond money that will have to be paid back by users of the system. "None of that is county money," Steckman said. Seaford City Manager Dolores Slatcher said that is important for municipalities to be involved with the county in planning the system. There are many unincorporated areas that a county system could serve, she said. But cities that want to grow rely on being able to annex property, something that might not happen if that property is served by county sewer. "We still want to protect our annexation areas and our growth areas as spelled out in our 2003 comprehensive plan," Slatcher said. Livable Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's land-use plan for the state, has designated much of the area in western Sussex for limited growth. Even along U.S. 13, land between Delmar and Laurel, Laurel and Seaford, Bridgeville and Greenwood and Greenwood and Farmington is largely in Zone 4, where the least development is expected. Only the portion of the U.S. 13 corridor between Seaford and Bridgeville is all in zones 1 and 2, where the state is encouraging growth.

"Sewer plans should be consistent with where growth is being planned," said Ann Marie Townsend with the Office of State Planning Coordination. She added that her office is withholding comment on the county plan until it has more information about it. But a new county system would not necessarily mean that western Sussex would see more growth than it would without such a system, Stickels said. "This system would take care of the development that is already coming," he added. Mike McGroerty, founder and still member of the Nanticoke River Watershed Conservancy, agrees that construction of the sewer system would not encourage development in western Sussex. "Development is already here," he said. "A sewer system won't accelerate it any more than it already is." The county sewer system would also handle waste from communities that are already developed and whose homes have separate septic systems, such as River's End near Seaford and the numerous mobile homes parks in western Sussex, Stickels said. "It would definitely be a bonus to have access to public sewer," said Linda Reiner, president of the Rivers End Property Owners' Association. "Septic systems are going to fail," and it is very tough to find a good spot for a second septic system, she added. McGroerty lives in Nanticoke Acres, east of Seaford, a community that could be included in the county system. He recently spent about $13,000 to have a new septic system put in, but said that he would not hesitate to hook up to a county system. "All these little septic systems put nitrogen and other nutrients out, that eventually end up in the river," he said. Excess nutrients encourage algae growth, which in turn sucks oxygen from the water, leading to fish kills, and blocks sunlight from reaching valuable bottom-growing grasses. McGroerty added that it is important that the county system not discharge waste into the Nanticoke watershed. He would prefer that the system use something like spray irrigation, through which the waste is sprayed onto crops, which absorb the nutrients and keep them out of the watershed. Steve Schwartz, whose Holly Shores home is also along the river, agrees that any county system should not discharge into the Nanticoke. At the same time, he said, any waste that is sprayed onto cropland has to be sufficiently treated to ensure that all contaminants are removed. He also does not trust the county, which recently completed a regional sewer system to serve eastern communities, to do the best job in handling waste. "I don't see that the county is going to be able to do things better than the towns," he said. "I have not been overly impressed with what they have done on the eastern side of the county." Schwartz argued that it would be more effective in removing nutrients from the watershed for some government entity to immediately start monitoring private septic systems, to make sure that they are working, and to curb the amount of yard fertilizer that makes its way into the watershed."That kind of stuff would go a long way in dealing with the problems we have now," he said. "But nobody seems interested in doing that."

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