Bethany voters overwhelmingly approve loan for new water tower

There was no council election in Bethany Beach this year, but that didn’t stop voters from casting ballots in nearly record numbers on Saturday, Sept. 8. The question of borrowing for construction of a new water tower was a hot enough topic to bring out 525 voters in person and lead 513 more to cast absentee ballots — the vast majority of which were in favor of taking out the $2.6 million loan from the State’s drinking water revolving fund.

Between absentee and in-person votes, 979 votes were cast in favor of taking out the loan, while just 59 voted in opposition. That’s nearly 95 percent in favor and just 5 percent against.

Council members, who had championed approval of the loan and some of who turned out on Sept. 8 to offer information and support for the passage of the referendum, expressed relief when voting results were posted on Saturday evening.

While the referendum allows for borrowing up to $2.6 million at up to 3 percent interest, Town Manager Cliff Graviet had previously noted that he expected the final interest rate to be less than that. The low-interest loans from the revolving fund come at a fraction of the prevailing interest rate and could come in closer to 2.7 percent. The terms for the loan to the Town of Bethany Beach will be set later this fall, now that the referendum has been passed.

The Town will also need to finalize documents for a bidding process for construction of the tower, which will be integrated with the existing water plant and standpipe off Collins Street. Some elements of the facilities there, including fencing and trees, are set to be reworked as part of the project, clearing the way for the new tower to be constructed and protected, while also aiming for improved aesthetics and reduced noise from equipment.

Graviet said the Town plans to work with neighboring property owners to decide elements such as the style of fence that will be installed around the completed facility.

The new tower will store the town’s year-round water supply of about 250,000 to 300,000 gallons above head, eliminating the problem of water aging and the resulting production of cancer-causing trihalomethanes that has plagued the existing standpipe storage. Instead, during the slower seasons, only the new tower will be used for water storage, making for a fresher water supply despite the town’s lower population outside the summer.

During the summer, the tower and standpipe will both be used, which will still allow the water to remain fresh, as water usage increases beyond even the 1 million gallon storage capacity of the ground-level standpipe.

The combined facilities will also allow for improved redundancy for maintenance and in the event of problems with the storage system, as well as increased overall capacity to meet State recommendations in the event of an emergency and improved options for interconnection with neighboring water systems should the town’s system need to be taken offline for a period of time.