Sussex County Council discusses county's drainage issues

The Sussex County Council heard this week from Jessica Watson, program manager for the Sediment and Stormwater Element of the Sussex Conservation District, about common concerns about drainage in Sussex County. Watson said common issues include homes being built below the road and in a sump. She said common occurrences could be avoided with pre-planning and could be less expensive to fix.

She said Zoar Estates, an area being developed now, has “no consistencies between the lots” being graded and could potentially be an area with flooding issues.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked what a remedy would be, and Watson acknowledged that sometimes “there is nothing that can be done.” She did say that after-the-fact catch basins can sometimes be used, but she said some areas are so low that there is no solution.

The council also heard from Brooks Cahall, of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, about what is being done countywide and statewide to deal with drainage issues. He said that, with just about five years of data from former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s Surface Water Task Force, they have found that, for every 112 properties, there is one drainage concern in the county. He reported that Senate Bill 64 had called for the creation of a Flood Plain and Drainage Committee, with about 20 people on an advisory board, to come up with information to send to DNREC Secretary Colin O’Mara.

Watson then reiterated that there could be some solutions to the county issues, such as establishing a working group to develop drainage and grading standards and possibly incorporating the Sussex Conservation District into the certificate-of-completion process.

Deaver asked what the County could do right now for areas they know will have issues and Watson said the District does not have enforcement powers and there are no regulations to make developers conform to a standard. She noted that, if property owners were to create something on their property that negatively affected nearby property owners’ drainage, 5,000 square feet would have to be affected before the District’s stormwater and sediment regulations would kick in.

Councilman George Cole asked what the other Delaware counties do about the issue, and Watson replied that Kent County does have a drainage code and their Conservation District provides lot grading inspections. Cole also asked about special tax districts for subdivisions and Cahall said Kent County was looking to implement something similar.

Councilman Sam Wilson said he feels it all goes back to the landowner, noting that his grandfather graduated high school “100 years ago” and that he knew that, if you were going to buy a piece of property, “you go after a big rain,” so you know what you are getting. “You don’t expect the county to bail you out.”

Deaver and Watson had both mentioned earlier that many of the people moving to Delaware are shocked by the low lands and some never visually inspect property before purchasing it. Cole added that the land has all been “looked at and engineered,” so some people are under the assumption that water and drainage issues have been ironed out.

Cole emphasized that he didn’t want to “start a whole new drainage department” at the county level. He said he wanted to use the knowledge of the Conservation District to protect the small lot owners who are being affected.

The council this week also again deferred any action on electronic message display on off-premise signs. Cole expressed an interest in limiting them — if there was a consensus to approve them at all — to four-lane roads, such as Route 1, Route 13 and Route 113, but ultimately the council decided they would come back for more discussion.