March  2,  2011

County looks for disconnects
in Green Acres community

The county Department of Special Services is about to launch its long-percolating program to divert rain water from the sanitary sewer network with a pilot project in Green Acres.

The 377 homes in the Brandywine Hundred community will be inspected for sump pumps and downspouts illegally connected to the sewer. Homeowners will be required to disconnect them and discharge the water onto the ground around the house. They will be reimbursed for all or part of the cost of doing so and advised where to locate the discharge so that it won't cause or acerbate any drainage problem.

A plan presented to a County Council committee said the pilot would begin during March. County officials have been considering how to proceed for more than a year.

After receiving strong criticism at the committee meeting on Mar. 1 from some Council members who objected to providing reimbursement, Nicole Majeski, deputy chief administrative officer, told Delaforum that she and Jonathan Husband, who is directing the program for the department, will confer with County Executive Paul Clark before deciding whether or not to modify the plan for the pilot project.

As it stands now, that plan calls for county inspectors to visit each house to determine if there are any illegal connections. If disconnection is required, the homeowner will be given “a reasonable amount of time” for that to be done. Upon completion of the work, there will be a re-inspection and, if the result is satisfactory, the homeowner, after presenting receipts, will be reimbursed for the actual cost incurred.

Reimbursement will be capped at $500 for each of one or two sump pumps and $50 for one downspout disconnected.

Husband said the anticipated $5 million cost of the hundred-wide disconnection project will come from the money raised by the sale of long-term bonds being used to finance compliance with a federal Environmental Protection Agency mandate to eliminate by 2018  all discharges of untreated sewage into the Delaware River. With the introduction of what is termed 'clearwater' into the sanitary sewer  network during a heavy rain, more effluent is received than there is capacity at the Wilmington sewage treatment plant the county also uses to process it.

He justified spending the $5 million as a preferred alternative to upwards of $100 million it would cost to expand the treatment plant or to pay a federal fine for not complying with the mandate.

Councilman Jea Street said there is an "issue of fairness" in subsidizing compliance with a long-standing law by residents of affluent Brandywine Hundred while county government appears oblivious to flooding problems in such places as the Route 9 corridor between Wilmington and New Castle. "It's another case of the 'haves' getting while the 'have nots' don't," he said.

"There are a lot better places we could put that money," George Smiley said.

Joseph Reda suggested that, instead of being subsidized, homeowners be assessed a surcharge on their annual sewer bill for not disconnecting. Husband replied that the goal is to eliminate clearwater from the sewer system so that processing capacity does not have to be increased. A surcharge, he explained would not accomplish that.

He added that the purpose of the pilot program is to determine the extent of the problem of illegal connections more precisely than the previous  general estimate of  15% of Brandywine Hundred properties. He said Green Acres is sufficiently large enough to provide a representative sample of the entire hundred. "We really don't know what we'll find," he added.

Husband also tended to downplay the actual cost that might be required. He said a reasonably adept do-it-yourself advocate could do it with "$20 worth of parts from Home Depot and an hour and a half worth of work." Any licensed plumber would be able to do the job easily, he added, but said the county inspectors will not recommend anyone or any firm.

He acknowledged that, at this stage, participation in the project will be voluntary in the sense that an inspector cannot gain access to the house without the owner's or occupant's consent. Literature prepared to be provided to residents, however, implies that the matter would not be dropped if that happens. It says that a refusal will trigger direct contact by a county official  "to discuss what procedure New Castle County must follow to gain entry."

Emphasis at this point, he said, will be on cooperation on the grounds that the disconnection project will be beneficial to county residents and taxpayers. "We thought it would be better to ease into this project," he said.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Homeowners will be required to disconnect illegal sewer links

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