County gets update on Clean Water & Flood Abatement

During Tuesday’s regular Sussex County Council meeting, County Finance Director Gina Jennings gave the council an update on the Clean Water & Flood Abatement Task Force. Jennings, who sits on the task force, said a meeting was held in November, with another meeting scheduled for Dec. 17.

“The Act states that most of Delaware’s waters do not meet water quality standards for their designated uses, such as drinking water, swimming, and supporting fish and other aquatic life,” explained Jennings. “Delaware’s list of impaired waters includes 377 bodies of water that suffer from excess nutrients, low dissolved oxygen, toxins and bacteria. Extensive analysis of chemical contaminants in fish has led to advisories that fish are unsafe to eat in more than 30 waterways statewide.”

Jennings said that at their next meeting the task force will review the funding needs to meet the State’s demands for clean water.

“The Act states it is in the public’s interest to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund to coordinate the available resources for State drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, non-point source pollution reduction, toxics removal and ecological restoration,” she said.

Jennings serves on the committee with representatives from the State, and the other two counties, as well as members from Tidewater Utilities, Artesian Water and the Delaware Farm Bureau. She explained that she’s sitting on the committee because there is a tax involved.

“The calculation of the Clean Water Fee for Sussex County is $0.2071 per $100 of assessed value, from a minimum of $45 per year to a maximum of $85 per year. Our average single-family home would be charged the $45 minimum; in other words, 65 percent of our parcels will be charged the minimum. The fee will generate over $8 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund just from Sussex County alone.”

Council President Michael Vincent asked if the tax would be paid by every resident, even those who pay sewer tax.

“Yes,” explained Jennings, “and even properties who are normally exempt, such as nonprofits, would also receive the tax as well.”

Councilman George Cole asked where in the bill’s language it says the money goes.

“They’re creating a trust fund — it’s a separate fund, knowing that a similar bill was introduced last year that was generating about $30 million statewide. It would go to cleaning the waters that were listed…”

Cole asked if there was clear language as to what the monies collected from the tax could be spent on.

“Yes, it’s listed in the bill… There is language in this bill that says they could transfer funds to other needs. The needs are specifically listed as wastewater needs and things like that. I don’t know how those funds could possibly distribute their money, so my concern is once you transfer funds to another fund, that could transfer funds… When there’s language in a bill that says it’s able to transfer that does, yes, make me nervous.”

Jennings noted that the bill has not yet been introduced, as the Delaware State Legislature does not reconvene until January 2016. She said the committee will meet again twice in January, in the hopes the bill will be finalized to be introduced.

Councilman Rob Arlett noted that all people want clean water, “therefore, one would presume we would not have clean water in this state. Is that an accurate statement based on the need of this extra funding?”

“The EPA puts out regulations on how the water should be tested and DNREC tests those waters. There are 377 of those waters that are not deemed suitable for fishing or swimming,” explained Jennings.

“Do they know what’s causing this ‘bad water?’”

“It all filters down from the Clean Water Act that was passed by Congress in 1976 and it stipulates that all states have to establish lists of bodies of impaired water,” said Hans M. Medlarz, County engineer. “That watershed assessment is done on a tri-annual basis and is predated by a number of tests that DNREC runs — tests for toxins, nutrients, any kind of exceedances… The next step is you establish total maximum daily limit…

“The intent is to use the trust fund to remedy and eventually delist all of the water bodies in the state. That’s the intent.”

Medlarz said a lawsuit filed against the EPA in the late 1990s triggered the enforcement of the Clean Water Act federally.

“Now I think the State of Delaware is one of the best states in terms of watershed assessment compliance.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, County officials discussed signage for the Delaware Coastal Airport. In June, the County voted to officially change the name of the Sussex County Airport to Delaware Coastal Airport. Since then, the County has been working to replace signage that displays the new name.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said most of that work has now been completed, with a new sign in place at the entrance of the parking lot, as well as signage within the terminal building.

The County is now looking to add an additional airport sign that would be located at the corner of Airport Road and Route 9, as traffic enters into Georgetown.

“The property is actually owned by Sussex Academy,” said Lawson. “I’ve had conversations with members of the board of the Academy, as well as some of the administration of the school, and we have a gentlemen’s agreement in place right now to locate the sign on their property as long as they would get some real estate on the sign … indicating that that is the location of their school.”

Lawson said he has also had preliminary discussions with the Town of Georgetown because the sign would be within the Town of Georgetown’s purview and fall under their guidelines.

“We’ve not submitted anything as it related to paperwork or the application process. After today’s presentation, that would be the next step.”

He noted that, if all goes well, the County anticipates construction to begin early next year, with construction to be completed in early spring of 2016.

“I hope it’s not going to be one of those annoying electronic signs that blinks. It’s not going to do that, is it?” asked Councilwoman Joan Deaver.

“We will have full control of the design,” said Lawson.

“But it will be in good taste?”

“It will be fully controlled by us,” responded Lawson. “With any of your recommendations we will be able to monitor and keep the sign under complete control of the County.”

“Good,” said Deaver, noting she had to give Lawson a hard time after recent discussion of signage regulations in the county.