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Rapid development keeps Sussex Conservation District busy

Stormwater management offers public a line of defense
July 11, 2019

Editor’s note:This is the second in a series of articles about a water workshop hosted by the Lewes Planning Commission.

The developer of any project in Sussex County is likely familiar with Jessica Watson or her team at Sussex Conservation District. No project moves forward without the district’s stamp of approval.

Their review aims to ensure development can move forward with an effective stormwater plan designed to manage major rain events without flooding the project or neighboring properties.

“If you disturb 5,000 square feet, it’s coming to my office one way or another,” said Watson, manager of Sussex Conservation District’s Sediment and Stormwater Program. “Whether you’re building a house, shopping center or development, there has to be some type of plan in place.”

Watson’s team, which includes four inspectors and two plan reviewers, also monitors in-progress projects, inspects existing facilities for maintenance and responds to complaints. She said they’ve added two inspectors in the last 18 months to keep up with the rapid growth of Sussex County. 

“We drive around Sussex County like crazy,” Watson said. “It’s super busy.”

Before developers begin a project, they meet with Sussex Conservation District staff to review regulations.

Although sometimes challenging, she said, her office has a good relationship with most of the builders and developers in Sussex County.

“We try to work with them as best we can,” she said.

She said her office reviews stormwater plans for existing conditions. It does not incorporate sea-level rise projections as part of its analysis. In areas with a high water table, she said, the developer must provide boring samples to determine the appropriate size of the stormwater facility.

Developers work with Sussex Conservation District throughout the approval and construction process, and Watson said inspectors often visit sites to ensure contractors are complying with regulations. Some residential developments take 15 to 20 years to complete, and she said they must stay with the project until the last home is complete.

“We don’t have guns or badges,” Watson said. “Our ability to get them to comply is through their building permits.”

If developers aren’t complying, she said, Sussex Conservation District writes a violation letter.

“For the most part, it works,” she said. “They want their building permit and to move forward with construction. They also want a good relationship with our office so they can do their next project.”

If the letter does not result in compliance, she said, they refer the matter to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“That’s really where the fines would take place,” Watson said. “Most of the time, people don’t want to get to that level, so they work with us.”