While state officials take no action on a critical environmental impact statement, Rehoboth Beach officials are unable to move forward with the city's proposed ocean outfall.
With the outfall in limbo, how to dispose of Rehoboth's wastewater could become the hottest issue in this year's mayoral campaign.
Nearly a year ago, Rehoboth Beach officials submitted an environmental impact statement to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, as required to receive state funding for a $25 million ocean outfall project.
Then-Secretary Collin O’Mara took no action on the statement before leaving for his new post as president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
Mayor Sam Cooper said incoming DNREC Secretary David Small told him he would take up the project soon.
Small said he has not reviewed the entire record, and there is no timeline for a decision.
“I can say it’s a very important decision, and I want to make sure we are fully informed to make a decision,” he said.
For Rehoboth officials, however, there is a timeline: the city is under a court order to cease dumping its treated wastewater in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by Dec. 31, 2014.
That's a timetable Cooper has said will not likely be met.
Small said it's likely the court order will be amended to give the city more time.
“I understand the city is anxious to move forward,” Small said.
As for how he might rule, Small remained poker-faced.
“I don’t have an opinion yet,” he said.
Cooper said he was disappointed in O’Mara for failing to make a decision. He said O'Mara should have approved or denied the statement or held additional discussions before moving to his new job.
“Right now, we are committed to this,” Cooper said, citing years of studies, meetings and presentations held before city officials decided on ocean outfall.
If ocean outfall is not feasible, Cooper said, the city would have to look at other options. Cooper did not mention land application as one of those options, but Small said if the city decides to use land application, the state would help pay for it.
Meanwhile, Cooper’s opponent in this year’s municipal election has come out in favor of land application.
Tom McGlone favors teaming with Artestian Water Co. on a project that would pump Rehoboth’s treated wastewater to land Artesian owns north of Milton.
Artesian Executive Vice-President Joe DiNunzio said the company is still open to discussing its plan, which has been estimated to cost $33 million for construction and engineering. DiNunzio said Artesian has 75 acres of land available and can build a facility with the capacity to handle Rehoboth's wastewater.
Back in 2010, one of the city’s concerns with using a private vendor was controlling user rates. DiNunzio said any arrangement on rates would be worked out on a contract basis, but the rates would be consistent with the $635 annual charge associated with ocean outfall.
DiNunzio acknowledged that the Artesian application site, north of the intersection of Route 16 and Route 30, is in the Broadkill River watershed.
McGlone said he believes DNREC has not made a decision because it is scared of the perception surrounding ocean outfall.
Cooper is frustrated city officials may have to reconsider a decision made four years ago after years of study. He said the city took six months to examine land application with private vendors and received only one proposal. He said the $33 million price quoted by Artesian does not include the costs of leasing the land.
He said the city already has a $10 million loan for upgrades to its treatment plant, so capital costs for the outfall itself are $25 million, $8 million less than Artesian's proposal. Cooper also said an outfall would be paid in full in 20 years, with no land leasing costs.