County proceeds on Western Sussex study

Sussex County Council discussed a potential $500,000 contract for a Western Sussex sewer study at the Sept. 20 council meeting — specifically, the feasibility of a regional wastewater treatment facility.

Assistant County Engineer Russ Archut gave a little background: Engineering firm Sterns & Wheler, which council had approved as the planning consultant for the Dagsboro-Frankford sewer study, earlier this year had been simultaneously approved as lead consultants for a western sewer study, once council decided to move in that direction.

Archut’s presentation on Sept. 20 indicated they had indeed decided to do so. With council’s 4-0 approval (an exasperated Council Member George Cole abstained), Sterns & Wheler and sub-consultants Whitman, Requardt & Associates will move forward on the feasibility study.

As a first step, the engineers will meet with west-side municipalities.

According to Archut, a feasibility study in the early 1990s had revealed many towns preferred to go it alone and take care of their own needs. However, with increasing development on the one hand and pending, more stringent, state environmental regulations on the other — and, perhaps, increasing awareness of water quality problems on the Chesapeake Bay — he said times had changed.

Blades, Bridgeville, Greenwood and Seaford had all expressed interest in at least the opportunity to take a look at the county-run regional treatment option, Archut said. Laurel was already midway through extensive upgrades, so would probably continue on its own, and Delmar had never expressed much interest, Archut added.

However, as County Administrator Bob Stickels pointed out, no towns would be excluded from discussions.

If Laurel and Delmar wanted in, County Engineer Mike Izzo said he suspected the county would need to build more than one wastewater treatment facility. However, working with the single-facility scenario, Archut detailed total costs of $82 million.

That figure would include the $500,000 already mentioned, for planning all the way through facility design, plus $300,000 for soil science, $20 million for pumping and conveyance systems, $30 million for treatment and disposal, and $31 million for land acquisition (roughly 1,000 acres).

Archut anticipated continued reliance on spray irrigation as the preferred method of disposal, although he said they would also look at rapid infiltration basin (RIB) and deep-well injection technologies.

Cole, however, questioned not only the mandate for the study, but also the eventual scope of work.

“Before we move into planning, shouldn’t we ask the towns what they want?” he asked. Cole suggested sewer infrastructure in the eastern part of the county had revved the engine of growth and questioned whether that was what the western towns really wanted.

However, his fellow council members with constituents on that side of the county said they’d received interest from municipal leaders. Council President Finley Jones noted Seaford, which has an outfall for treated effluent in the Nanticoke River. He said the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) wasn’t going to permit any additional capacity and suggested spray irrigation from a regional plant would be the best way to go.

As Cole protested, the original plan had been for treatment only, and the towns would have to run mains to the regional plant.

“Now we’re talking about conveyance and disposal,” he stated.

However, Archut said they’d incorporated these factors to better identify the size of plant they’d need.

Cole said the county should host a public hearing to more accurately gauge public will for the project before approving the $500,000 feasibility study.

Archut assured him the engineers would necessarily hold one-on-one meetings with each town, and lack of interest would bring the study to an abrupt halt. And as Izzo added, the contract with Sterns & Wheler would certainly include a breakout for preliminary public outreach — if that’s as far as the study went, that’s all the county would pay for.

Cole still withheld his vote, but with majority support, the engineers will move forward. If planning does lead into design and construction, the western towns could be hooked up to a regional treatment plan in seven to 10 years, Archut estimated.

In other sewer-related business, Izzo asked approval for a contract for pump station upgrades at the Bay Colony and Fairway Villas communities in the Holts Landing Sanitary Sewer District (north of Clarksville). He said they’d received active interest, with five bidders — and one had actually come in under the engineering department’s $242,000 estimate.

And County Director of Operations Heather Sheridan asked approval for a contract for inspection of the ocean outfall that disposes of treated effluent from the South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility (SCRWF), near Ocean View. As Sheridan explained, the outfall extended 6,700 linear feet from shore and lay at a depth of 40 to 45 feet.

During the inspection, the contractors would remove various manhole covers, videotape in both directions, and take velocity and pressure measurements, she said, for $66,000.

Council unanimously approved both contracts.

In non-sewer related business, council awarded a $20,000 grant to the National Council on Agricultural Life & Labor (NCALL), which helped 58 Sussex County families into first-time homebuyers’ mortgages last year, and a $19,000 grant to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity (H4H), for infrastructure at a new 19-home project near Seaford.

Council also voted on a modest increase in building code review and inspection fees, by $30 on average in each category. The county contracts with First State Inspection Agency for the work, paying out 70 percent and retaining 30 percent of those revenues.
The fee increases will go into effect Jan. 1, 2006.