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Rehoboth rally: Reject ocean outfall

Environmental activists call on state to fund alternative plan
David Carter, Delaware Audubon conservation chairman, uses a box of chocolates to make a point. He said if the box belonged to DNREC, people could not be sure what they were getting when it was opened. BY RON MACARTHUR
March 21, 2014

Environmental activists gathered at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand March 20 to oppose the city’s planned ocean outfall.

Braving a windy day, Gregg Rosner of the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation said Gov. Jack Markell’s recently proposed clean-water initiative should help pay for an alternative to ocean outfall to dispose of treated city wastewater.

“This measure would protect both valuable tourist dollars and swimable ocean waters for us and preserve our coastal marine life,” Rosner said.

Rehoboth is under court mandate to cease dumping treated effluent into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by Wednesday, Dec. 31. An environmental impact statement required to obtain state funding for the $30 million project has been sitting on Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara’s desk since August, awaiting approval.

Rosner said an outfall would damage Rehoboth’s high water quality and could negatively affect the city’s economy.

David Carter, conservation chair of for Delaware Audubon Society, said while spray irrigation would be expensive, it is a proven, cost-effective technology. Rosner said he prefers manufactured wetlands, which not only help dispose of effluent but also provide an environment for birds and other wildlife.

Carter said the city should use available technologies such as building wetlands or land application, instead of moving effluent from one bad location to the ocean, an even more sensitive site.

Prior to selecting ocean outfall as its proposed alternative, Rehoboth officials had examined other disposal methods, including land application. City officials decided on ocean outfall as the most cost-effective solution.

Speaking after the rally, Mayor Sam Cooper said he's frustrated by the slow pace for approving the environmental impact statement, and by opponents who want to reopen an issue that has been studied for nearly a decade.

He said land application would require nearly 500 to 700 acres of contiguous land in an area close to the city. "That's hard to find," he said. He also said it's not feasible to build wetlands.

The city has also had offers from private companies to treat its wastewater, but Cooper said under their proposals, the city would lose control of sewer rates.