County talks geothermal system failure at EOC

With a four-year-old geothermal heating and air conditioning system at the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) close to failure, Sussex County Council members this week asked county staff to review the potential remedies for the problem before pursuing a permanent fix.

Steve Hudson, director of maintenance for the county’s engineering department, told the council that the geothermal closed-loop system at the EOC building has been suffering from increasing temperatures within the water inside the underground loop, with system failure – and potential destruction of expensive equipment – a potential result if the situation continues.

Hudson said consultants had told him that the fact that the system never goes into heating mode, due in part to the heat generated by the electronic equipment at the EOC, means that it is simply continuing to heat the water in the loop to ever-higher temperatures.

Normally, the use of heating in colder weather would allow the heat built up in the system to be dissipated and it would never go above the mid-80s. It has passed that now and has at some points been in the 90s, Hudson said, with the mid- to upper 90s being a top limit of the system before failure could occur.

As a result of that lack of use of heating – and possibly of the addition of more equipment to the building since the system’s design – the EOC is now in need of a temporary cooling tower to ensure that temperatures remain low enough in the building this summer to prevent excessive heat from damaging or destroying EOC equipment that includes about $4 million in radio and 911-system equipment alone.

That’s just a temporary fix, until a permanent solution can be put in place.

Council members said they could approve rental of a temporary cooling tower, but Councilmen Sam Wilson and Vance Phillips, in particular, said they were leery of moving ahead with a permanent solution until there was a second, or third, opinion on why the four-year-old geothermal system is failing and how it should be fixed.

Wilson said he was skeptical that there wasn’t enough water underground to dissipate the heat being generated. Phillips suggested that the question of whether the system was properly designed should also be looked at, asking for outside experts to be consulted as to the cause and solutions.

Hudson said he was already looking into whether any costs to repair the system could be passed back to the consultants who designed it.

Council continues to monitor state legislature

With the final month of state legislative action for 2011 now under way, Deputy County Administrator Hal Godwin provided another update to the council this week on bills of concern for the County.

House Bill 152, he said, was introduced last week by Rep. Dave Wilson, and – at the suggestion of Sussex County and with the support of both New Castle and Kent counties – proposes to change state law that currently would require the counties to retrain their assessors as appraisers. The bill would make that change only required for a future assessment, rather than now. Godwin said a hearing on the bill was set for June 8, with potential release from committee on that date.

Godwin also noted increasing opposition to House Substitute 1 for House Bill 101, which combined two prior proposed bills that dealt with expanding procedural authority of the Delaware Department of Transportation.

He said state Rep. Deborah Hudson had introduced the bill because of complaints she had received in her district about the development of a shopping center, but opposition to the bill had since led to it being tabled. He said many had wondered why they were trying to change state law “because of one subdivision. … Even DelDOT is not anxious to take on the new responsibilities this would give them.”

Godwin said a new set of rules was being promulgated that some felt would address some of Hudson’s issues without a statewide law change. “I don’t look for it to go much further,” he said.

“I would like a bill to tell DelDOT to build the roads right then, when we approve things,” Councilwoman Joan Deaver put in wryly.

Godwin told the council on Tuesday that he had been surprised to find Senate Bill 64 on the senate’s agenda for May 31, as he had expected the issues related to giving new authority to DNREC and its Secretary over building construction processes to be addressed by a separate committee before any legislation was adopted.

After he asked why it was already up for a vote, Godwin said, SB64 was subsequently taken off the senate’s agenda and moved to its “ready list.”

“It appears they were trying to get it passed and then set up the committee of stakeholders to address the details,” he explained, noting that there had been “a lot of controversy.”

County Administrator David Baker said concern over the bill from members of the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) who were present at a recent meeting had been that the resulting committee and the DNREC Secretary would have “a lot of authority to make decisions,” which they would then ask the county and towns to implement through ordinances.

Deaver noted that she believed the issue may have arisen as a result of calls from residents of the Primehook Beach area in her district to have breaches along the bay closed to help prevent continued flooding. Baker said they had also had an issue in the Harbeson area a couple years ago and he was not sure the issue had come directly from the local bay-beach workgroup.

“They have issues in New Castle County that are much different from what we face,” he said.

“They have gone too far with this,” Deaver said of the proposed legislation. “It’s not helping my people in Primehook Beach at all. It’s too complicated.”

“There are a number of people who have complained loudly to their legislators,” Godwin put in. “But there’s also a lot of resistance, particularly in this county.”

Wilson said he was concerned that the legislation would put much power in the DNREC Secretary, who makes the appointments.

“That’s one of the things that was noted rather quickly,” Godwin said.

“We still have flooding issues, but I’m not sure this is the answer,” Deaver concluded.

Godwin also offered information on House Bill 143, which would provide state and local law enforcement agencies with a $1 million fund to fight violent crime, using an extra $15 levy on criminal fines for funding. He said the state police chiefs’ association had some problems with the financial structure in the bill but that he suspected it would move forward once that was dealt with.

“It may have an effect on things we try to affect with our grants-in-aid,” he told the council.

Phillips said he was already getting calls about another bill, one that Godwin said would clarify the process by which the State certifies county and local comprehensive land-use plans, eliminating the governor’s advisory committee in favor of a cabinet committee and the Office of State Planning Coordination.

Godwin said he expected that bill to be introduced soon but that even if it is not passed by the end of the session on June 30, it could be passed next year, because the two-year legislative period will continue into 2012.

“It has an impact on the relationship between us and the state planning office,” Godwin advised.

Another planning-related bill that Godwin said was in the works but not yet being circulated would change the required update period for comprehensive plans from five years to 10 years. That is something he said was likely to be welcomed, but he didn’t know if there might be some other aspects of the bill that they wouldn’t like.

Finally, Godwin said the so-called “dog bill” – which, among other things, reduced the maximum length of a dog’s tether and prohibited tethering at night – had been tabled. The county had opposed the bill as requiring more enforcement, for which it would be responsible, without additional funding for dog control.

Also on June 7:

? Baker reported that recent EOC call statistics had shown that 74 percent of emergency calls are now coming from wireless telephones.

? Deaver asked Baker if the monthly report given to the county indicates how many of the 40 additional Delaware State Police troopers assigned to Sussex County through funding from the county are actually being stationed within the county. Deaver has expressed concerns about a lack of state police coverage and apparent increases in crime in her Lewes-area district.

Baker said the current monthly DSP report does not indicate whether some of the 40 troopers are being called to duty outside Sussex, but he said he had asked on June 6 for a separate report that will show just that. He said he had talked about the issue of trooper staffing in Sussex with DSP officials on Monday.

? The council unanimously approved disbursal of the full $20,000 grant-in-aid funding for the Dagsboro Police Department for the 2011 fiscal year. Godwin noted that the funding was being used for basic salaries, with a specific comment from town officials that the funding was being used to offset existing salaries, not to provide additional salary.

The county’s proposed 2012 budget increases the grant-in-aid funding for local police departments to $22,500 – just shy of the $25,000 figure it was a few years ago, before budget cuts dropped it to half that amount.

Deaver also asked whether there were any changes to the restrictions on how such funding is used under the 2012 proposed budget. Baker said the issue had been included in the “budget letter” as something that needed to be addressed in terms of tightening those restrictions.