Lewes BPW should reject Sussex offer

February 10, 2023

I have a concern about the analysis in the report to the Lewes Board of Public Works about options to treat wastewater, specifically regarding soft factors such as approvals from other political bodies biasing the results toward ease of implementation. It seems to me that when making a strategic decision, soft factors should be largely ignored in favor of a desirable long-range solution. 

Lewes BPW made an investment in 2008 to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility to a state-of-the-art plant capable of handling 1.5 million gallons per day. Fourteen years later, it is about halfway through its design life. The plant operates at 900,000 gallons per day, which is largely local customers in the vacation season. BPW estimates that if every lot in its service area is built out, needed capacity would be 1.75 million gallons per day in 2050. Current demand is far below that figure. The plant is not currently constrained by capacity. The plant is still considered state of the art in process design and operation. In the report, a large portion of the cost is to build a seawall around the plant and to build a raised roadway for trucks to transport dried sludge and supplies. An upgrade to automated dewatering would allow faster processing with less sludge on site. A barrier seawall around the entire site should be considered for the next 15 years, and the roadway could probably be delayed.

The discussion of options for the Lewes plant came about because Sussex County has plans for major upgrades to its Wolfe Point facility. It has approached Lewes with an offer that would allow Sussex to use BPW’s canal outfall. When Rehoboth Beach upgraded to an ocean outfall, Sussex offered to share the outfall for $7.6 million. Rehoboth turned them down. Many things in life, government and science are built on trust between interested parties. Lack of trust is a serious consideration and disqualifier in many transactions. People at the operating level of BPW seem to trust engineers at Sussex County. However, these engineers will move on, retire, take other assignments. Their replacements will eventually be decided by Sussex County Council, a group to which Lewes has at most one vote. Lewes cannot rely on Sussex County Council to have its best interests at heart. In the long term, BPW customers will have to pay for the Wolfe Point operating cost and future Wolfe Point capital cost. An offer of “no immediate capital cost,” but a portion of operating cost is not a deal. Sussex will be allocating the operating cost. Sussex will be determining when the next investment is needed. Lewes BPW will be an onlooker. The offer from Sussex County gives no authority for management or ongoing involvement to Lewes BPW in the future. The offer should be rejected.

A decision to join with Sussex County at this time is a mistake.

BPW should continue to study hardening the existing plant (option 1) in due time, relocation and utilization of existing plant (Option 2-b) and relocation and a new ocean outfall (Option 2-c). It is likely that improvements in membrane technology will extend the life of the existing plant.

Bob Heffernan 


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