Commentary: Keep Our Wells Clean
Sussex County residents are no longer on their own when it comes to taking a stand on local environmental matters. In 2017, Keep Our Wells Clean was created in Milton, and it continues to grow, raising a collective voice to address these issues. This is being done primarily by informing and rallying the general public, encouraging them to speak out, seeking answers and action from county and state officials whose primary interest to this point, many contend, seemed to be in preserving the status quo rather than protecting ordinary people from the forces of commercial over-exploitation of our natural resources and residential overdevelopment in northeastern Sussex without maintaining adequate infrastructure.
Keep Our Wells Clean was founded by Andrea Goodwin Green and Anthony “Tony” Scarpa last year in response to filings by Artesian Water who was seeking to obtain a DNREC permit for the Artesian Northern Sussex Regional Wastewater Recharge Facility plan. In the course of doing personal research on the construction work for that project, some of which was going on just outside his subdivision, seemingly before DNREC approval, Mr. Scarpa had become aware that the Sussex Planning and Zoning Commission had differing versions of what was being accepted by the county with regard to dates, surveys and deadlines for Artesian’s request.
ANSRWRF was the result of the failure of 2007’s Villages of Elizabethtown development, and much of what the company had submitted for the initial version of the project was outdated and not applicable to their 2017 request. However, it appeared as though it was being given rubber-stamp approval in Georgetown. This recent variation of the original plan sought and has resulted in, among other things, the eight-mile pipeline from Allen Harim’s Harbeson processing plant to the new 90-million-gallon wastewater lagoon on Route 30 just north of Milton (next to the Clean Delaware operation), as well as an increased number of spray fields in that area - none of which were included in the earlier Elizabethtown filings.
Mr. Scarpa shared what he had discovered with the HOA of his community, which put him in touch with Ms. Green, whom he did not know at the time. They found that they both had serious concerns about how things were being allowed to proceed with no meaningful official oversight, and the seed of what was to become Keep Our Wells Clean was planted.
Originally from Brooklyn, Ms. Green came to Delaware in 2000 and Milton in 2012. Her current private law practice is based in Millsboro after she previously worked at UAW Legal Services and at Community Legal Aid Services where she served a term as president of the board of directors. She has also served as co-chair for the Combined Campaign for Justice for Sussex County. Following a successful career in New Jersey, Mr. Scarpa relocated to the Milton area in 2016, bringing the wide-ranging expertise he had acquired from his years in the real estate industry into play in what he was experiencing here.
The pair, who have been described as “an attorney with the instincts of a Mama Bear protecting her cubs” and a “no-nonsense businessman who recognizes when he and his neighbors are being taken advantage of,” shared a sense of outrage at what was occurring in Milton and Sussex County, on a regular, recurring basis, but neither had any experience in founding a grassroots organization like the type called for.
Using their existing network of contacts, they began by getting in touch with a number of other Milton-area housing development HOAs, where they found some early support. However, things proceeded slowly until they got in touch with well-known Delaware environmental activist Maria Payan, who provided assistance and led them to reach out to the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, an established advocacy organization, with whose help they formed the initial version of KOWC.
Although Artesian was ultimately permitted to proceed with ANSRWRF, and other subsequent related projects have also been approved, KOWC has raised awareness in the community and begun to change a long-standing pattern of silent acquiescence to such work. The potential for serious consequences for the growing number of new Delaware residents arriving in Sussex County each year is slowly being recognized.
From helping to rally a standing-room-only crowd at the August 2017 DNREC hearing of the Artesian matter, to maintaining an ongoing presence at Sussex County Council and board of adjustment hearings, KOWC does research and provides information making citizens aware of what is going on in the county. The group’s public forums help educate and facilitate people’s involvement in the government approval process. This is a critical part of KOWC’s mission. Mr. Scarpa says, “Our intention is twofold. To help people stay informed, healthy and safe, and assist them in protecting their property values.”
With continuing help from Ms. Payan, technical assistance from Dr. Mohammad Akhter, the former executive director of the American Public Health Association, and a committed core of original volunteers, Keep Our Wells Clean continues to help the community take action to protect itself from the prospective errors, corner-cutting and lack of concern by their commercial neighbors, elected officials and government employees. KOWC has provided well-testing kits to families unable to afford them, and took the lead in negotiating the maze of red tape required to file a recent rehearing request for a board of adjustment decision.
As the group continues to serve the citizens of Milton and Sussex County, they work with established organizations like the League of Women Voters to boost public understanding of the issues and empower people in making their voices heard. An umbrella group, Sussex Health and Environmental Network, is forming and includes groups like KOWC and Protecting Our Indian River. This will make it easier for communities to support one another throughout the county and state on matters that have consequences for everyone.
The group’s website is currently under construction. They hope to have it up and running soon, but the wheels grind slowly for volunteer organizations. Until then, you can find them on Facebook, in the group Keep Our Wells Clean.
Jeff Horn has written extensively for the New York City real estate industry, and served as the associate editor of the trade publication, The RSA Reporter. He has also written reviews and profiles in the entertainment field.