Property owners approve sewer district


Local property owners approved the creation of a new Sussex County centralized sewer district west of Fenwick, near Roxana, on Saturday by a vote of 243 to 87. Officials will begin construction on the Johnson’s Corner sewer district in the spring of 2009, with completion expected in the summer of 2010.

Many in the area worried about the cost of the new district, which will burden residents and property owners with thousands of dollars in connection fees and related bills. Brian Lekites, a Swan Estates resident, voted against the creation because of the cost.

“I’m against it. Finance is the biggest reason,” he said after voting on Saturday. “I’m not completely against the idea of having sewer. Really, all of it seems like a lot.”

The Johnson’s Corner sewer district is carved out of a patch of land west of Fenwick and north of Route 54, near Roxana.

It contains roughly 450 properties, according to county officials, including those in the Fenwick West, Swann Estates, Deer Run Acres and the Hamlet at Dirickson Pond developments and dozens others scattered across the rural landscape there.

Each property owner in the district will pay the $3,600 connection cost and up to $1,177 per year in charges, which includes a $300 annual service charge. There is some funding assistance available for low-income residents.

The connection fee is drastically less than what some pay to connect to central sewer systems throughout the county, but the annual assessment charges are amongst the most expensive in Sussex, according to information available on the county Web site, at www.sussexcountyde.gov.

The $300 annual service charge is only topped by the $479 residents pay in Henlopen Acres, and the front-footage assessment charge of $8.77 per foot is only topped by what residents pay in the North Bethany expansion and in the Greens at Indian River sub-district, where residents pay more than $11 per foot.

“It’s a very difficult decision to make because of the cost,” Tom Fahey, a Johnson’s corner resident who lives on a fixed income, said before the vote. “It’s hard to commit yourself to money you don’t have.”

Several local residents, including several retirees living on fixed incomes, have complained about the cost associated with the project. Others have shrugged it off, many citing potential impending state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) regulations that would call for updated septic systems and large monetary investments for those updates in the next decade.

Gary Meiklejohn, a local property owner, said on Saturday that he voted for the sewer partly because of a sense of environmental stewardship.

“By the time he’s old enough to fish or go swimming,” Meiklejohn said of his grandson, “He won’t be able to swim in these bays.”

The expansion of the county’s centralized sewer has been a move lauded by officials with DNREC as environmentally-friendly, especially around the sullied inland bays. Replacing outdated and failing sewer systems around the inland bays with central sewer is part of a DNREC action plan to clean up the water here.

Centralized systems are more closely-monitored and don’t contribute as much pollution to the bays as an individual septic system, according to state and county officials. Since 1990, county officials have replaced more than 14,000 individual septic systems around Sussex County’s inland bays with centralized sewer.