Wastewater -- Opportunity to Urge State Approval

Several years ago, (on December 14, 2009) the Mayor and Commissioners of Rehoboth Beach took definitive action on improved wastewater disposal to satisfy orders by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the courts to stop disposing of wastewater into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. That action was reported by Save Our City’s long-time leader, Nancy Martin, as follows (edited for space):

“At a special meeting …our Mayor and Commissioners, after hundreds of hours of investigations, expert studies and reports, site visits, consultations, information sessions and the big public hearing November 7, and after reviewing input from over 100 citizens, voted unanimously to utilize the ocean outfall treated wastewater disposal method for Rehoboth Beach rather than land spray application. Each commissioner gave a report on how they came to the conclusion they did…”

Attached to Nancy’s report was a lengthy article by Cape Gazette reporter Ryan Mavity (below), who set out all the details of this strong action by the City.

There was substantial advocacy by an outside interest group against ocean outfall, and an attempt to politicize the decision, but the Mayor and Commissioners acted on the facts. What is important to note is that the City was acting deliberately but on a schedule to be certain that the entire project could be completed by December 14, 2014, the deadline set by the court through a consent order accepted by all parties.

Since then the City has moved the process along actively by completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with ocean outfall disposal as the preferred alternative, and submitted the EIS to the State. The City also applied, just as it should, to the State for a significant share of funding through loans for the wastewater project. That is where it sits today: awaiting state action with only about eight months before the court-ordered deadline. While the deadline may be extended, delay serves no-one’s interests except the outside opponents of the outfall project. Mayor Cooper has been in regular contact with DNREC officials to identify any issues and to urge action, and believes the state decision is moving forward.

We highlight this process because the new disposal system is important, and to urge citizens to understand that continued delays have again attracted those outside interests who would like to reverse the City’s decision on ocean outfall, which was found by those who studied it to be superior on every count. These included environmental quality, lower cost, easier implementation, especially well-suited to our region, and clearly safer for the bays and waterways that are being protected. Continued delays in the decision will also move the project further out on the schedule and increase its costs, a large portion of which are borne by the property owners and water/sewer users in Rehoboth Beach.

At this point, we cannot identify any specific issue that is slowing up state approval, but we note that it is slow. If you are inclined to reiterate your support for the ocean outfall project, as many of you did back in 2009, we offer the outline of a letter. Of course, the best letters are those stated in your own words, so feel free to use this as a guide for your own thoughts.

Here is the article that ran in the Cape Gazette:

 

Rehoboth Selects Ocean Outfall – City Manager to Work on Funding, Permits

By Ryan Mavity

December 2009

 

The Rehoboth Beach commissioners have unanimously selected ocean outfall for wastewater disposal.

In addition the commissioners, on Monday, Dec. 14, authorized City Manager Greg Ferrese to begin taking steps to obtain funding and, with the help of city engineers, start the ocean outfall permitting process.

One potential source of funding looks to be the state’s Clean Water Advisory Council, which has indicated Rehoboth is a high-priority project. The city must submit a notice of intent for funding to the council by Jan. 2. The city is under a consent order to cease disposing of treated wastewater in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by Dec. 31, 2014.

Each commissioner made a formal statement on why ocean outfall was selected.

Commissioner Lorraine Zellers said, “Rehoboth is mandated to totally remove all nutrients and phosphorus from the Inland Bays. Unlike land application, ocean outfall is the only method that is guaranteed to do this. While land application is a reasonable solution in some areas, the arguments do not apply to our region.”

Zellers said the city’s wastewater treatment plant already treats wastewater above state standards and has a proven 20-year track record. The outfall itself will undergo a rigorous permitting process, satisfying state, federal, local, coastal and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards before approval is granted, she said.

In addition, Zellers said unlike Sussex County, the city does not have an issue with expected increased growth; the amount of treated effluent discharged into the ocean will remain fairly constant. She said many concerns about accidentally discharging untreated effluent do not apply, because the city does not use a combined wastewater/stormwater system. Zellers said ocean outfall would allow the city to control costs and quality of treatment.

“Ocean outfall is not a new technology, but one that has been used successfully by our neighbors in South Bethany and Ocean City for 30 to 40 years, respectively. Our beaches continue to be among the cleanest in the country – a fact appreciated by the many visitors that continue to come,” Zellers said.

Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said, “I heard the constituents of our city loud and clear. We must be masters of our own destiny. The possibility of relinquishing control to another entity where we have no control over price increases simply will not serve our citizens in the best possible way.”

Coluzzi said there would be no way to guarantee the effluent will not find its way into the Inland Bays if land application were used. She said ocean outfall was the only way to ensure nutrients do not get into the bays. Coluzzi also cited Bethany and Ocean City as examples of successful ocean outfalls.

Commissioner Willis Sargent said, “Were all other factors equal, I would only slightly favor ocean outfall. However, since the estimated $54 million cost of initially implementing land application is 80 percent more than the estimated $30 million for ocean outfall, and since the difference becomes even greater when future operating costs are included, I believe that ocean outfall is the right choice for Rehoboth.”

Commissioner Stan Mills supported ocean outfall but said he still did have some reservations. He said he did not feel the commissioners had enough information regarding the environmental impacts of ocean outfall and land applications. Mills said while he was voting for ocean outfall now, he could change his mind later if the costs or environmental impacts change.

“I have yet to receive overwhelming and convincing evidence that one method is better than the other, especially in the environment realm,” he said. “I will be basing my vote primarily on the impact to the users, specifically the lower user costs.”

Commissioner Kathy McGuiness said, “My first concern was the environment. It really didn’t matter what it cost, the control, anything, because if we were putting something unsafe that ruins the ocean, that ruins tourism, it ruins everything for everybody. I am convinced the impact is negligible. It’s just relocating a pipe from the canal to offshore.”

Commissioner Dennis Barbour said land application does little, if anything, to address the long-term health of the Inland Bays. He said he was convinced ocean outfall would not have any harmful environmental impacts. Barbour said the richness of the aquifer in the Rehoboth area negates any benefit land application may have of recharging groundwater. He said ocean outfall leaves the system in the hands of Rehoboth and its citizens and is the most fiscally prudent option.

Mayor Sam Cooper said besides cost control and a proven track record, ocean outfall would completely remove nutrients from the watershed and would allow the city to continue to benefit from investments it has already made in the existing treatment plant. Cooper said ocean outfall is not only cheaper for the city on a capital and user-cost basis but will also help keep costs down over time.

 

 

(Please use this letter as a guide and make it original using some of the ideas below)

 

Secretary Collin O’Mara

Secretary of the Environment and Energy

89 Kings Highway
Dover, DE 1990

 

Dear Secretary O’Mara:

Nearly four and half years ago, the City of Rehoboth Beach, acted definitively to comply with the consent order directing it to cease disposing of its treated wastewater into the Rehoboth-Lewes Canal. It did so after considerable public input through a decision by the Mayor and Commissioners to utilize an ocean outfall plan for disposal. The City then followed up that decision with a comprehensive EIS analyzing the preferred disposal alternative as compared with others, and focusing on environmental impacts. All elements of this decisions confirmed ocean outfall as the superior choice - from environmental benefits to lower costs. The city also authorized a surcharge on its water and sewer bills to build funds for the project and spread the costs on water customers over many years. Finally, the City applied to the State of Delaware for a significant loans for the project because of its general benefits to the state.

The consent order deadline for having the project in place and ceasing the disposal of Rehoboth’s wastewater in the Canal is December 14 of this year, so I am concerned that the final approval by the State for the project and for funding is taking so long. I appreciate that it is complex and a very large undertaking, but the merits of the new disposal method, the goal of stopping disposal into the Canal and the saving in project costs by avoiding more delay all seem like great reasons to get going. I hope you will give the go-ahead soon for the benefit of all Delaware citizens.

Thank you for your consideration,

Name

Address