Delmarva Power amends Whites Creek powerline plans

Having already heard some public concerns, Delmarva Power & Light has made some last-minute changes to their plans to install electric lines under Whites Creek. The public comments period for their application has been extended to Friday, Oct. 4.

Delmarva Power has requested a State of Delaware Subaqueous Lands permit to install a 16-inch diameter, roughly 482-foot-long electric power distribution line at least 20 feet below the mudline of Whites Creek. It would stretch from Daisey Avenue in Ocean View to Peaceful Lane near Millville.

Roughly 20 interested residents (plus various staff members) attended a public hearing that the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) hosted on Oct. 1 at the South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach.

“Hopefully, the change in where they’re laying the line will alleviate a lot of the concerns that were initially put to the department,” said DNREC Hearing Officer Lisa Vest on Oct. 1. “But that is one of the reasons why the comment period isn’t closing tonight.”

DNREC contains the Division of Water, which oversees the Wetlands and Subaqueous Section’s permit requests. After the public notice was published in July, several residents requested that DNREC host a public hearing, in addition to accepting written comments.

Although the hearing itself was held primarily for DNREC to receive public comments, Delmarva Power staff were also able to briefly explain the project. A number of people with questions about the overall project and construction plans asked their questions directly of Delmarva staff after the hearing.

Although there was no formal Q&A session on Tuesday night, the DelDOT staff will write a formal response for every question they receive. All of the information will be included in a formal report to DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who makes the final decision.

“No decision has been made yet in regard to these permits. … The secretary will review the entire record that is developed in this matter — meaning the permit application itself, the questions and comments that may come in tonight, the presentations, the Department’s responses…” Vest said. “These hearings hold a very important role with regard to the decisions the department makes in these matters.”

Public comments bear the same weight, regardless of whether they are spoken or written.

 

The project

 

The proposed project was initiated at Delmarva’s insistence. Delmarva Power’s Jim Smith emphasized that their goal to not only have minimal impact on the adjacent housing developments, Foreside Commons and Solitude on Whites Creek, but to include adjacent property owners in deciding the location of the new electric box.

“Customers in the vicinity of the project are currently served by a radial (i.e. dead-end) circuit,” the application states. “Therefore the purpose of the new 25kV line is to create a looped circuit, which will allow electric service to feed from multiple directions in the event of an outage.”

The new lines would connect to an existing switch cabinet in Solitude and a new, partly underground, splice box on the south side of Daisey Avenue, then run under existing lines to the nearest wooden pole on Daisey.

Delmarva Power decided a creek crossing would be the most cost-effective and least impactful option to improve service reliability. The Whites Creek Electric Reliability Improvement Project is part of a broader strategic plan to strengthen the overall power system during times of peak demand, while continuing to reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.

Delmarva Power has 13,000 miles of distribution lines and 1,500 miles of transmission lines.

“The natural growth in this area is one of the huge drivers for Delmarva Power to increase the way we serve our customers,” said Smith.

The project construction would take two weeks maximum, for all underwater and dry-land installations. There would be some intermittent lane closures at the west end of Daisey Avenue, but residents would still have access to the street.

Project work would occur in public space, or Delmarva Power’s easement areas. They will need to file sediment/erosion control plans with Sussex County and work with the Town of Ocean View on construction permitting.

The project will not impact the ability for future dredging projects of the waterway. Whites Creek was dredged in the early 2000s to a depth of roughly 4 feet MLW.

 

The people and the environment

 

Resident Gordon Wood said he wasn’t happy with the proposal. He requested a delay in the hearing, especially because the detailed plans weren’t provided until Monday afternoon, as part of the last-minute changes (although he said he appreciated his one-on-one conversation with Delmarva Power staff). Otherwise, he said, he saw merit in the recent design changes.

Martin Lampner of Whites Creek Manor is indirectly affected by the project, but he questioned the impact on future dredging projects. He also shared his displeasure with the changing process.

“This is not the first time we’ve encountered an issue with DNREC,” Lampner said. In another matter where plans were significantly changed, “we did not get a chance to comment.”

Other people had written about impacts to White Creek and the neighboring lands.

Almost everyone else saved their questions for Delmarva Power staff, instead of the DNREC hearing officer.

Whites Creek is a tributary of the Indian River Bay, so the state and federal government have jurisdiction over subaqueous lands requests. The actual square footage of underwater impact is in the 600 range (not including any infrastructure on dry land).

For installation, Delmarva Power has reversed its original plan. They would now bore eastward under the creek soil. Then, a reamer would be pulled back westward, to widen the drill bit’s initial hole.

“After the hole is reamed to 16 inches in diameter, a bundle of four 4-inch diameter conduit bundles will be pulled from the [east] side to the [west] side. Once the conduit is pulled through the hole, the electrical connections will be made on either side of the creek,” the application states.

There would be no permanent towers, poles or other structures on the subaqueous lands or wetlands.

Environmentally, state and federal agencies listed no threatened, rare or endangered species as present within the project area. However, they recommended a calendar restriction to reduce impacts to natural fish and crab nurseries. A visual survey showed no raptor nests, although migratory birds may be present.

The Division of Fish & Wildlife recommended implementing a “frac-out” plan, to continually watch for — and then contain — any materials that could be released into the water or wetland. Accidental release of drilling fluid can occur when pressure in the bore hole is greater than surrounding soils can contain, although the horizontal directional drilling method is considered less risky than other drilling methods.

Because the lines are insulated far under the mud, the permit application does not make reference to any potential heat or electricity radiating from the lines.

The construction itself requires no dredging, since the insertion of the 16-inch pipe is expected to have little disturbance on the mud. There will be erosion controls in place during the project.

People can learn more information about the project by:

• Viewing the full application and related materials online at https://dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/events/478/public-hearin-delmarva-power...

• Contacting DNREC’s Patty Murray by phone at (302) 739-9378; or email Patricia.Murray@delaware.gov.

The public can provide official feedback by the Friday deadline by:

• Completing and submitting a form online at dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/public-hearings/comment-form.

• Emailing comments to DNRECHearingComments@delaware.gov.

Delmarva Power & Light of Salisbury, Md., submitted the application with consultant Sovereign Consulting of Exton, Pa.

 

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter