Groundwater program will affect developers

By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford is set to vote on a groundwater protection program that, city manager Dolores Slatcher said, will have significant impact on property owners and developers. If passed, the new ordinance would limit construction and land use in areas that the state has designated as groundwater recharge areas – lands through which rainwater seeps into the ground to fill the aquifers from which we pull drinking water. Those recharge areas include all of downtown Seaford and much of the rest of the city. "There are hundreds of acres in our development areas that will be affected," Slatcher said. The ordinance would apply to all new construction and to renovations and expansions of current buildings. Existing construction would be allowed to remain, but during any renovation project would have to be upgraded to meet the law. The city has developed the ordinance in response to a state law requiring all municipalities and counties to have in place plans to protect groundwater by the end of this year. The plans are to be part of the cities' and counties' comprehensive plans. "This will have significant impact on homeowners and businesses in the city," Slatcher said. "But how can you argue against clean water? You can't argue against it. But the costs of this will be substantial." And, Councilman Mike Vincent added, "the public doesn't have a clue." He made that comment during the city council's public hearing on the proposed ordinance, attended by no members of the public. Director of operations Charles Anderson told the council that the new ordinance would apply to all zoning districts in the city. "The goal is to protect public safety by minimizing contamination of drinking water," he said. Under the new ordinance, property that is in the groundwater recharge area could have no more than 20 percent coverage by impervious material. Impervious material like blacktop impedes rainwater from seeping into the ground. Some exceptions to the 20-percent coverage limit would be allowed, but only with an engineering study to prove that the development is not hindering recharge of the aquifer. "In our whole downtown, the lots will not be as buildable as they once were," Anderson said. The ordinance would also prohibit certain land-use in the recharge areas. Underground storage tanks larger than 100 gallons, including tanks used to store home heating oil, would be banned. Storage of toxic and hazardous waste would be prohibited, as would gasoline stations and dry cleaning establishments. Golf courses would be allowed only if they were "green" – if they did not apply pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Any spills in the recharge areas would have to be reported immediately and cleaned up within 45 days.

Vincent expressed concern about homeowners with existing underground storage tanks for their heating oil. "A lot of people who use heating oil have 275-gallon tanks," he said. If those tanks have to be replaced with aboveground storage tanks, "they will be fussing with someone." Water recharge areas outside of the city limits will be regulated by Sussex County. The county formed an 11-member committee to come up with regulations for its wellhead protection program. The committee started meeting in May 2006 and just recently agreed on a set of regulations, said Hal Godwin, assistant county administrator who has been overseeing the committee meetings. Godwin expects that a public workshop on the new ordinance will be held in April. After that, the ordinance will become a part of the county's update of its comprehensive plan, which has to be OK'd by the state by the end of this year. Godwin could not say when the new county regs would go into effect. The county has up to 18 months from the date of the adoption of the comprehensive plan to put ordinances from that plan into effect.

For your information:
A vote by the Seaford City Council on its new wellhead protection ordinance is expected to take place at the council's next meeting, Tuesday, April 10. If passed, the ordinance would go into effect 30 days following the vote.

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