Retention pond for road project raises some concerns

For Keenwik Sound resident Robert Lowe, the retention pond northeast of the Harris Teeter on Route 54 is cause for concern. As a volunteer working on pond maintenance for his own development, he said, he knows it takes time and money to maintain them, but he says it is worth the effort.

“It’s been about a year now, and it is already engulfed with algae,” said Lowe of the new retention pond. “We see an unsightly mess that will be here as time goes on.”

Lowe said he understands that retention ponds are sometimes a way of life. “The water has to go somewhere,” he acknowledged, but he said it seems as if this one was built and then forgotten about.

The retention pond is part of the Delaware Department of Transportation’s (DelDOT’s) Route 54 Mainline project, which is nearing completion. Lowe said he was wondering, since it has already been about a year since the pond was constructed, if it was going to be maintained by the State.

DNREC officials said this week that they are not responsible for the maintenance of any retention ponds. Sussex Conservation District Sediment and Stormwater Management Program Manager Jessica Watson said homeowners’ associations are often responsible for retention ponds within their developments, and the Conservation District offer guidelines on how to maintain them.

Mark Harbeson, project designer for DelDOT working on the Route 54 project, explained that, during construction, retention ponds are often the first thing built, as with this project, so it makes sense that it seems as if it has been there for quite some time.

Harbeson said the ponds are typically not maintained during the construction phase, but if the contract is written to require that DelDOT be responsible for maintenance once the project is completed – as it is with this particular project – the ponds are maintained by the State’s maintenance department after the project is finished.

Tina Shockley of DelDOT’s community relations department, further explained that such ponds are only maintained for functionality, and not aesthetics. For example, she explained, if grass or algae were to hinder a pond’s functionality, it would be taken care of. Otherwise, only routine maintenance is performed.

Harbeson further explained that retention ponds are built to act as a sediment basin, so that dirt and debris created during construction goes into the pond and not everywhere else. Once the construction is completed, retention ponds help store runoff from rainfall.

“The water falls on the road,” he said, “and it has to go somewhere.”

He said state regulations require that they manage the runoff so it can go back into the watershed at the pre-development rate. In other words, the regulations require that there be no difference in runoff from before the project was developed compared to runoff levels after development.

“That’s where the ponds come in. They trap the extra water, and it gets released through an outlet at the pre-development rate, so it is not made worse than before.”

Although aware of the function of the retention pond, Lowe said he was less than pleased with the State’s response about its maintenance.

“Aesthetics is the whole key word. What they are saying is they are not going to maintain anything. They are not concerned with aesthetics, only function. So the question deserves to be asked: Is this going to be kept like this?”

“To make these kinds of improvements and build something like this, it’s going to be a festered mess. How could you leave such a body of water with algae and mosquitoes right off a scenic road with sidewalks and bike paths, so people can look right at it?”