The Town of Selbyville held a public hearing this week on a resolution to authorize the issuance of up to $1.4 million in bonds to provide for the installation of a new drinking well.
“In November 2009, this well to the north detected a limit of 12.9 of a chemical known as MTBE [methyl tert-butyl ether], a chemical that gasoline companies add to gasoline, which became a substitute for lead. Now, this is 12.9 parts per billion. One part per billion is the equivalent of one second in a 32-year period. So you’re talking a minimum amount,” explained town engineer Erik Retzlaff of Davis, Bowen and Friedel Inc.
MTBE is regulated at a state level, and Delaware defines a maximum contamination level as 10 ppb. Retzlaff stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had previously found the chemical compound to not cause human harm at high levels.
“There’s no definitive research that shows that at a certain level that it’s harmful. There’s actually a statement in ’97, where [the EPA] reviewed it and issued a document indicating that, “there is little likelihood that MTBE in drinking water will cause adverse health effects at concentrations below 20 to 40 parts per billion.”“
Retzlaff noted that the Town has been “proactive” since the 16 contamination sites were found. The Town has been monitoring the MTBE levels in each of its three wells monthly, to ensure that the water supply to citizens has the lowest MTBE level available.
The Town eventually determined that they would either have to expand their current water treatment facility or drill wells farther north. The $1.4 million would pay to drill and install two new wells 3,500 feet north of town hall, “completely outside of the plume of any contamination,” as well as to connect electrical service and install a water main.
In the meantime, the Town is looking into interim treatments for its water.
The Town contacted the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, and applied to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. The program is 80 percent funded by the EPA, with 20 percent of monies coming from the State.
Through the program, the town will be given a $1.4 million loan at zero percent interest, which, upon full completion of the project, they will not have to repay.
“To be able to borrow that amount of money, you have to go to referendum. If we don’t pass the referendum, we don’t get away from the MTBE issue. If we don’t step up and take it, we might need to pay for it later,” said Retzlaff. “There’s really no reason for us to not finish the project.”
“We’re committed to following this project through to benefit the folks in Selbyville,” said Heather Warren, Delaware State Revolving Fund administrator.
Retzlaff estimated the project could begin construction within the next few months, if the referendum is passed, with construction lasting six to nine months. The two new wells would be able to run independently of each other, as well as together, and will be able to handle the Town’s anticipated future growth.
“In my mind, this is a win-win. What we are afraid of is there would be uninformed voters who would vote ‘no,’” Retzlaff said.
“The problem’s not going away. Somebody’s going to pay for it at some point in time,” added Mayor Clifton Murray. “I think we’ve got a great opportunity.”
The referendum can be passed if a simple majority votes in favor of the issuance.
“We have absolutely no choice in this matter,” said one town resident. “The only choice is, do we get it free or do we pay for it ourselves? This is the opportunity to get it free. We shouldn’t argue about it. We should support the deal.”
The Town has contacted the Delaware Department of Natural Resources about the contamination, and the agency is currently actively investigating and pursuing those who are responsible for the contamination.
Residents must register to vote by July 19 at 4 p.m. and may do so at town hall, located at 68 West Church Street.