Selbyville road closed, showing signs of collapse

Selbyville’s Railroad Avenue is at the first stage of collapse where it crosses the Sandy Branch tax ditch. Town Manager Bob Dickerson reported that a small hole had formed where the road fell in. The weakness was discovered, and the road closed on Saturday, May 2.

“That’s corrugated pipe under that road, and about a quarter-way up the side of it, it has eroded. It rusted out,” Dickerson told the Coastal Point. “When we have [heavy] rain, high water comes up there, it gets into that crack. It’s like a zipper effect. It keeps eroding.”

Then soil falls out, and the road sinks.

The two-lane road runs parallel to the railroad track, squeezed between it and the Mountaire processing plant.

Sandy Branch flows through town, east to west, but runs through a wide culvert under Mountaire and the Southern Delaware School of the Arts. It flows in two pipes under Railroad Avenue and three steel pipes under the railroad itself, Dickerson said.

The Town called Delaware Department of Transportation to request signage for the closure, though it’s a Town-owned road. The road is partially closed and blocked off with cones and a barricade.

Currently, the small hole is filled with gravel.

“It’s eroded a lot more than it appears,” said Dickerson, after work crews attempted to fill the hole with two “loads of stone” that just kept going.

Work on a temporary solution was to begin Tuesday, May 12.

“[They’re] going to sandbag the inside of that pipe where it’s eroded. The highway engineer said it’s done in a lot of cases,” Dickerson said.

Later in the week, crews are expected to cut open the blacktop, pour in concrete to seal the hole, and then cover and repave the road.

Sandbags will hold the waterway open until the concrete sets, but they don’t seriously impede the water, which Dickerson said is usually only a few inches high in the pipe. And it’s only a temporary fix for a larger problem.

“It’s not a quick fix,” he warned the town council on May 4.

“It’s definitely a problem we’ve got to get fixed, more than a temporary patch,” said Councilman Jay Murray.

“We don’t have the funds lying around to do that,” said Mayor Clifton Murray.

“That’s a half-million-dollar project,” said Dickerson, referencing a 2008 estimate for repairs under the road and railroad.

Selbyville could pay $52,000 in engineering costs alone, besides actual repairs. The Town is inquiring with DNREC for possible state funding on the engineering.

Selbyville is just beginning what could be a long process to even see what specifically happened to the pipe. Dickerson suggested there is a hole in the top of the pipe, but even a patch would only be temporary.

Because the railroad track may also be weakened where it crosses Sandy Branch, Dickerson will coordinate with the railroad company, tax ditch association and other agencies. “A lot of people” have to get involved, he said.

“Our main thing is to get that road open, because it’s got a lot of traffic on that road,” Dickerson said of the nearby Mountaire parking lot. “At shift change, you’ve got a real mess.”

Meanwhile, the Town is also dealing with issues at its wastewater treatment plant involving its lime silo. Part of the treatment process is to reduce acidity by adding lime. But water got in and “fried” some of the equipment, said Erik Retzlaff, town engineer.

Now, workers need to get that alkalinity back to the water, but until full maintenance of the lime silo is completed, they’re having trouble keeping the “bugs” — bacteria that are part of the treatment process — alive.

“Right now, everything’s in compliance. It’s just a struggle,” Retzlaff said.

In other Selbyville news:

• Flushing of water pipes continues around Hudson Road and Route 17 as part of efforts to prevent stagnation, Councilman Rick Duncan reported.

His own tap water was muddy recently, he said, due to a utility line being hit. Some of Selbyville’s water pipes are so old that there’s no record of where they were originally laid. Many clusters are still buried in undetermined locations, which is tricky when other utility companies need to dig.

“We tried to find them years ago. They found them for us,” Duncan quipped.

Town Well C is out of commission until it gets a new pump, Dickerson also reported. It was shorting out because the water’s high acidity caused deterioration. Maintenance was expected this week.

• Selbyville is using a $10,000 grant from Sussex County to repair and replace Polly Branch Road water lines.

State Rep. Rich Collins has also allocated $5,000 for a drainage project at McCabe Street and Ellis Alley, which frequently flood. Selbyville will chip in $600.

• The League of Women Voters of Sussex County recently toured local water systems, including Selbyville’s water and wastewater plants. Dickerson said the treatment plants seem basic because Town employees do the work every day, but when seen through the eye of a layperson, it’s an impressive process.

• The council approved a resolution regarding Lighthouse Lakes, which approves the planned community’s formation documents for a property owners’ association.

The developer must submit that approval to the Office of the Recorder of Deeds before Selbyville can issue building permits, Dickerson said.

Councilman Jay Murray abstained from the vote.

• The First State Work Camp will return to Sussex County in late June, said Marjorie Orendorf of Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church.

“This is an opportunity we’re hoping all the towns can take part in,” she said.

About 500 people from around the country will come to the area for an “intensive, one-week experience to help people grow in faith through service.”

Small teams repair homes, usually with at least five teenagers and one adult per team.

“We still need some work sites. We know we can handle at least 80 to 90 work sites that week,” Orendorf said.

The work they perform includes porch repairs, wheelchair ramp construction, painting, mobile-home skirting, landscaping and more.

The program is free for local homeowners, including materials, although people can provide materials if they’d like.

“Last time, we didn’t have enough houses in southeast Sussex County,” Orendorf said. The teams are happy to travel to Long Neck or farther, but “certainly there ought to be enough projects in these seven or eight towns.”

For more information or to apply to have a project done, contact Christina Wilson at Mariner’s Bethel at (302) 539-9510.

• The Selbyville Police Department received a Click It or Ticket grant for extra patrols this month.

If anyone has concerns with speeding through town, they can call the police department, which will consider moving the speed notification sign and cart there.

• Ball fields are available for public use on Park Street. Contact Town Hall to fill out a permit.

• Old Timers Day is scheduled for June 20, with the poker run on June 19. Organized by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, the festival will now charge a $10 entry fee for classic cars, but much of the festival will remain the same.

• Strawberry Center will host a paper-shredding event Friday, May 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dickerson said people can now take advantage of the presence of on-site vendors for food, ice cream and more. He marveled at the efficiency of the shredders, which are used to destroy sensitive documents, such as old bank statements and more.

“It’s gone in an instant. Don’t be shy about bringing boxes,” he said.

The next regular Selbyville Town Council meeting is Monday, June 1, at 7 p.m.