Selbyville council learns about proposed water filtration

Two towers could hold the answer to Selbyville’s water problems. At least, some of them. Plus, Selbyville could receive $2.5 million worth of water filtration for free.

After years of gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether) seeping into its groundwater, the Town has been offered a $2,526,300 loan from Delaware Drinking Water Revolving Fund. If and when the filtration project is completed, the money would actually function like a grant, due to 0 percent interest and 100 percent principal forgiveness.

Selbyville Town Council hosted a Nov. 4 public meeting to learn about the proposed filtration system, and it looks like filtering the water will be a breeze.

Selbyville plans to install two air-stripping towers, around 30 feet tall, behind the existing water plant. Within these columns, water flows downward, while air is pumped upward. The interior is like plastic whiffle balls, so the water and air break up around each other. MTBE is a volatile organic, so the liquid vaporizes as soon as it hits air. Water droplets have more surface area, so the towers strip more air into the atmosphere.

No chemicals or compounds are added to the water — just air. With concerns over the sometimes less-than-perfect quality of Sussex County air, each tower filters the air in a four-layer filtration system.

Not only is the process guaranteed to work, but Georgetown has used it for around 30 years, said Erik Retzlaff, town engineer. Selbyville itself considered installing such a system 15 years ago, but the cost was deemed “not worth it, then.” Councilman Rick Duncan said Delmar also just installed the system.

“This is old technology,” Councilmember Jay Murray said.

“So why would anybody not vote for it?” a resident quipped.

Retzlaff estimated that design and installation could take up to 18 months. Two identical towers would ensure there is always a backup system.

Future costs for the system would be related to electricity and extra pumping. However, Retzlaff estimated that the Town might save some money because the pH would be a little closer to normal, decreasing the need to add caustic soda — a common water treatment chemical.

The Revolving Fund money would come at the end of a similar loan that paid for the Town’s two new wells. In 2009, one of Selbyville’s three old wells was taken offline after testing with MTBE levels above state limits. A second well began showing increased signs of MTBE infiltration, so only the third well remained unaffected.

Despite good results from early testing, MTBE was also recently detected in one of two new wells. That well will not be used until filtration is installed.

With MTBE filtration, Selbyville could treat and use all of its wells freely.

“Nothing you’re drinking now is over the limit,” Retzlaff emphasized.

Residents have long been encouraged to use more water or flush the pipes regularly to improve taste and prevent stagnation. However, that is unrelated to the MTBE problem.

The State has not determined the gasoline additive’s source, which could be anything from old gas tanks to an abandoned automobile. MTBE is a common problem in Delaware, due to a shallow, unconfined aquifer. Luckily for Selbyville, that means the State of Delaware will help treat it.

“We’re not in a plume that’s above-limit, but if there’s a spike, we can’t control it. It’s very hard to get rid of,” Retzlaff said.

The town council unanimously approved the loan, but now the town’s citizens have to vote.

Town code requires a public referendum to officially approve the Town taking on such debt, so a referendum is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4, at town hall.

“This is a huge benefit to the town at very little risk. … You don’t get close to $2.6 million in a grant anymore,” Retzlaff said.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have someone take care of it,” said Mayor Clifton Murray. He and Hundley thanked Heather Warren, Delaware State Revolving Fund administrator, who was present.

Arcades games gain little traction

Sean Oates, owner Murphy’s Bar and Grill, again asked the council if there were any updates on his arcade gaming questions from September. Murphy’s currently has three games, but Oates would like to add three or four more. Selbyville code bans arcades, which are defined as having four or more games.

Oates called the law “antiquated.” He said he “didn’t sense opposition” when he first approached council and returned a week later with requested documents: a floor plan and guarantees that the games area is family-friendly.

“I would leave it as is. I’m not in favor of an increase,” said Councilman Clarence “Bud” Tingle Jr., noting that he didn’t feel many people use the existing games. “I don’t see a need to change.”

Oates said he wants to replace the three non-kid-friendly games. Then, he said, he’d add four family-friendly games in the back of the dining room.

“Nowadays, people like to play things that go ‘tweet’ and ring … not darts,” he said.

Town Administrator Bob Dickerson said the council could allow a conditional use for Murphy’s or change the code for everyone. Both options require a public hearing.

“I’m really not in favor,” said Councilman G. Frank Smith III. “We’ve had problem with arcade games [in the past].”

Oates warned that restricting arcades could prevent additional businesses from coming to Selbyville, such as a Chuck E. Cheese or Dave & Buster’s. The discussion ended soon thereafter.

Duncan later explained that the Town had had bad experiences with people loitering — especially when alcohol and games combined — which led to people congregating and fighting.

“I have nothing against what Sean [Oates] wants to do, but we have procedure in place. Just follow it,” Smith said.

In other Selbyville news:

• Halloween was uneventful in Selbyville this year, Police Chief W. Scott Collins said he was happy to report. Selbyville got a free boost of manpower, as 10 probation and parole officers helped patrol on Halloween and at the Oct. 30 parade.

“The State checks every registered sex offender on trick-or-treat night for lights-out,” Collins said, adding that everyone affected had stayed where they were supposed to.

• The Town’s two new wells are operational. Staff are adjusting chemical levels to ensure the water isn’t over-treated, officials said.

“They’re turned on but not completely automated yet,” Retzlaff said. “We’re fine-tuning … [but] we’re ready to go.”

Since Selbyville is receiving the MTBE filtration grant, Heather Warren asked if the Town might also clean up the existing water plant. Dickerson and council members said they could.

• Residents were reminded that they are welcome to contact the Town’s Public Works Department at any time regarding problems with the streets and so forth.

• The council unanimously approved two contracts with Hopkins Construction: $25,530 for wastewater ditch upgrades and $6,795 for work at the Bunting’s Mill Pump Station.

• Mountaire’s request to combine two Hosier Street properties was granted on a 4-1 vote. The Town required the combining in a recent operating agreement for a new parking facility. Smith voted against the measure, briefly saying that he has been “against this from the beginning.”

• The Council voted unanimously to give Town employees their customary holiday hams and purchase a $120 Indian River High School Band Boosters program ad.

• Selbyville Public Library Director Patricia Woods reported that the Haunted Library was a success, and she was “glad we can contribute to the town.”

• Selbyville residents have long benefitted from the Community Development Block Grant program that provides funding for low- to moderate-income families for home maintenance and repair. To be eligible again for funding, Selbyville will host a public hearing for people to learn more on Monday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m., followed by the regular town council meeting.