County council members debate sewer expansion

Sussex County engineering department officials unveiled a study this week, recommending that the county enhance sewage capacity along the northern Inland Bays and extend the area slated for central sewage there.

The plan, according to officials, is meant to prepare the county for future growth. Sussex County Council has consistently been criticized for approving development without first establishing much-needed infrastructure.

Sussex County Councilman George Cole (R-4th), who adamantly disagreed with the proposal, said that the proposed extension of sewer service will actually encourage dense development along the environmentally-sensitive watershed.

“The last thing we should be doing is encouraging development around our environmentally sensitive (areas). It’s not a good plan,” Cole said Tuesday. “When you designate it as a development area because of a sewer; that land all the sudden becomes a target.”

Vance Phillips (R–5th) disagreed with Cole, saying that establishing areas for future central sewage expansion was responsible for a county where growth is seemingly unstoppable.

“This is simply a case of the county looking toward and planning for future growth,” Phillips said. “The county is criticized for not planning. How anyone could vote against good planning is beyond me.”

The proposed plan, which in its preliminary stage does not yet carry a price tag, would establish three new sewer planning areas, extend the Long Neck, Oak Orchard and West Rehoboth sewer districts, expand capacity at county wastewater treatment facilities and make improvements to current wastewater infrastructure.

If approved, the plan would earmark most of the land from the northern portion of the watershed to Ellendale for future central sewage, according to officials. County Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to allow the county’s engineering department to further study the feasibility of the proposed expansion, with Cole opposed.

The proposed central sewer expansion areas would have the capacity to serve at least four units per acre, even in spots where such density is not allowed but is sometimes granted under county code, officials said.

“The study area is too large,” Cole said. “Just because we have a plan doesn’t mean it’s a good plan. A lot of people in this county think the land-use planning is poor. Look where we are today.”

Phillips denounced Cole’s comments as strictly political.

“There are no guarantees of any specific density,” Phillips said. “Whether or not the land use is appropriate is handled on a case-by-case basis. Every application has to live or die on its merit. To say that planning for future growth is encouraging development is political posturing at its worst.”