Council says no to letter contesting septic regulations

PCA's Collins on mission to delay Cheasapeake Bay Initiative
Tugboats pushing stone and other products are commonplace on the Nanticoke River. The river is part of the large Chesapeake Bay watershed. Residents living along the Nanticoke River in western Sussex County would be affected with the passage of proposed regulations to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. BY RON MACARTHUR
December 10, 2013

Positive Growth Alliance Executive Director Rich Collins didn't get what he asked for during the Dec. 3 Sussex County Council meeting.

Collins asked council to pen a letter asking state and federal environmental officials to reconsider amendments as part of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative that, he says, are based on inaccurate data on the amount of nitrogen released into Sussex County soil.

Collins said the public comment period closes Friday, Dec. 6. He asked council to join with several other elected officials who have already requested a delay in implementing the proposed regulations. “They are concerned about the burden on their constituents,” he said.

“All we are asking is that this initiative be delayed until the Environmental Protection Agency establishes actual numbers,” Collins said. “EPA is driving this train.”

Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, supported Collins' request but his motion died when it wasn't seconded.

“You are a lobbyist, and you are presenting only one point of view,” said Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach.

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, said it was a state issue. “I'm not comfortable taking a position,” he said.

Phillips then asked county attorney J. Everett Moore if Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, could write a letter to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on behalf of council. “Any one of you could write a letter as an individual, but not on county letterhead,” Moore replied.

Collins said a study conducted by the University of Delaware in conjunction with the University of Maryland and the Delaware Department of Agriculture showed huge discrepancies in data used to establish regulations. Collins said the EPA based its regulations on production of 35 million pounds of nitrogen and 8.8 million pounds of phosphorus per year from chicken manure in Sussex.

Collins said the study estimated production of 14.8 million pounds of nitrogen – less than half the EPA figure – and 5 million pounds of phosphorus. “There is 20 million missing pounds of nitrogen,” Collins said.

Collins said EPA's numbers are based on 1980s data, without regard for nitrogen abatement measures taken over the past three decades. “The EPA used models while the university study was done in the field. If the EPA is this far off with this, how can we trust any of their numbers?” he asked.

During the public comment period, John Austin, a Inland Bays Foundation board member, thanked council for not submitting a letter to DNREC. He said the proposed regulations were reached after 13 public workshops, three public hearings and numerous other meetings. “The septic regs are a workable compromise that should be enacted by DNREC,” Austin said.

He said the updated regulations are needed because many area waterways do not meet federal and state water quality standards.

Among the proposed regulations are upgrades to individual septic systems within 1,000 feet of the Nanticoke River in western Sussex County. The proposed regulations include supplemental treatment systems costing from $2,000 to $6,000, maintenance contracts and twice-yearly inspections for all new or replacement systems. Collins said, in his opinion, this is the most egregious of the proposed regulations because it will have little to no effect and will cost some residents thousands of dollars.

He said septic systems represent only a small percentage of the nitrogen release in the county.

Collins said, for now, about 1,500 of the 30,000 people in Sussex County who have individual septic systems will be affected by the proposed regulations. That number will increase Jan. 1, 2015, when the same regulations proposed as part of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative are scheduled to be enacted in the Inland Bays area for all new or replacement systems, Collins said.

The goal of the five-state initiative is to reduce nitrogen by 29 percent and remove 6,000 on-site septic systems in the Chesapeake watershed in an effort to restore the bay and its tributaries by 2025.

Delaware comprises 1 percent of the land mass in the Chesapeake watershed. The EPA claims that 77 percent of nitrogen released into the watershed from Delaware comes from farms while 7 percent comes from on-site septic systems.


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