Local sewer projects get big funding boost

With the Rehoboth Bay as the backdrop, state and local officials accepted a check from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the amount of $19.2 million on Thursday, July 2. The money, provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will help to finance wastewater projects – many in Sussex County – which, in turn, will support the health and welfare of the area’s citizens, as well as the environment. It will also bring about 450 much-needed jobs to the area.

Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor: State and federal officials gladly accept a check for $19.2 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, July 2.Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor
State and federal officials gladly accept a check for $19.2 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, July 2.

The money will go into to the state’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Loan Fund, which is administered by the Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Control (DNREC). DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara said the funds will help finance five municipal sewer projects in Sussex County.

“We are extremely excited,” said O’Mara. “This is an incredible opportunity, and not only will we receive the $19.2 million, but we will be able to leverage about $75 million more. The project will allow us to remove almost 10 percent of the septic systems in Sussex County.” He thanked Sussex County Administrator David Baker, as well as DNREC officials, for their support.

The five projects are planned new sanitary sewer districts (SSDs) and improvements at Angola Neck, Johnson’s Corner, Oak Orchard, at the Inland Bays Wastewater Facility and at the Woodlands of Millsboro, a 57-lot subdivision approved as a county-owned and -operated sewer district by residents in a referendum held June 25.

Together, these projects are expected to reduce the annual nutrient load going into the Inland Bays watershed by more than 45,000 pounds of nitrogen and more than 2,500 pounds of phosphorus. Both, in excess, can harm water quality and, in turn, harm wildlife and fish habitat.

U.S. Sen. Edward E. “Ted” Kauffman (D-Del.) said the excitement over the projects was really about “jobs, jobs, jobs.” He said the money from the EPA not only will go to stimulate the economy and aid in the protection of the environment, but will allow Delaware to apply for other discretionary grants and become part of the “green” workforce globally. He said that, at this point, the United States is “not a player” in the green jobs sector. “Hopefully, this will get us back,” he said.

The Johnson’s Corner SSD project will eliminate about 675 septic systems and prevent 102 additional systems from being installed. It will consist of the construction of three main pumping stations, the installation of approximately 40,000 linear feet of gravity sewer, 13,000 linear feet of laterals and 10,000 linear feet of pump station force main, and the installation of 40 individual home grinder pump units and 5,000 linear feet of grinder force main to serve isolated homes.

State Rep. Gerald Hocker, a lifetime local resident who recalled the days when he could be “up to his chest” in the bay and still see through the water, offered his thanks to the EPA and the county, saying the project could be a real financial burden to communities surrounding Johnson’s Corner.

“This is going to be a great help,” he said. “This is quite a large district with not all that many residents, so the cost is extremely high.”

He said that, although the final hook-up and footage rate have not been determined, the funding will help offset some of the county’s financial burden, which will, in turn, help the residents with their costs.

The project will serve several subdivisions including Deer Run Acres, Hampden Park, Gentle Winds Addition, El-Rancho Roxanna, The Hamlet at Dirickson Pond, Fenwick West, Swann Estates I & II and Wanmar Lake.

Other projects include the Angola Neck SSD-Refinance project, which will eliminate approximately 1,360 septic systems and prevent 216 systems from being installed in the communities of Woods on Herring Creek and Angola by the Bay, which both have failing septic systems.

The Oak Orchard SSD Expansion will eliminate approximately 675 septic systems and prevent 180 additional septic systems from being installed.

The Inland Bays Wastewater Facility Expansion will allow for an expansion of the current facility and will now serve the Oak Orchard Expansion and the new Angola Neck Sanitary Sewer District, as well as the current wastewater it treats from the Long Neck and Oak Orchard districts.

The Woodlands of Millsboro SSD will allow the county to eliminate an existing, failing on-site treatment disposal system and the construction of pumping stations that will transfer flow to the Millsboro Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Of the $19.2 million, approximately $14.5 million will go to the Sussex County projects in the form of “loan principal forgiveness” or grants.

“The stimulus funding is unique because of the $19.2 million, 50 percent has to be for principal forgiveness projects,” explained Terry Deputy, administrator of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, adding that, in Sussex County, it will have the most impact because of high costs and very high user rates.

“Originally, for the Angola Neck project, we had loaned them $15 million,” he said. “When the stimulus comes, we’ll refinance the $13.5 million loan and another $1.5 million loan in addition, and we will forgive the $1.5 million.”

For Johnson’s Corner, there will be a $1,248,000 loan that does not need to be paid back; for Oak Orchard, $3 million, the Inland Bays Regional Wastewater Facility Expansion $1,307,000, and the Woodlands of Millsboro project has a loan of $640,000, all of which will be forgiven. The CWSRF loans are in addition to any USDA grants or loans, grants from the county and developer contributions.

Deputy added that the CWSRF will be spending $93 million throughout the state on 33 other projects. For projects that did not qualify for federal stimulus funding, they are offering loans with 2 percent interest (as opposed to the usual 4.29 percent) for any projects that are “under contract or under construction” before Dec. 30 of this year, as an added incentive.

Gov. Jack Markell commended the Clean Water Advisory Council and Sussex County government and thanked the EPA, saying it was a “win-win” for the environment.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said getting the septic systems out of the ground is a good start, as non-point sources of pollution, such as faulty septic systems and nutrients from livestock, are more of a pollution problem than point sources such as industrial and sewage treatment plants. But more lies ahead in the area of being true environmental stewards, he emphasized.

“This is just one part of legislation,” he said. “It’s a big shot in the arm, but it’s not the end of the road.”

The $19.2 million also includes Green Project Reserve Funding. Sussex projects falling under that funding include the Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Sussex County and the Town of Millsboro Wastewater and Reuse Project. The funds must be used for green infrastructure projects.

For more information on the Johnson’s Corner Sanitary Sewer District, or any of the other projects, visit the county’s Web site online at http://sussexcountyde.gov and click on “county offices,” “utility permits,” “sewer and water” and “proposed projects and schedules.”

For more information on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and how that funding is being spent, visit www.recovery.gov. For more information on how it pertains to Delaware in particular, visit http://recovery.delaware.gov.