Set a referendum for Lewes BPW future
Over the course of the next few months, a referendum election should be set to gauge the sentiment of the City of Lewes community regarding the future of the Board of Public Works. The outcome of that referendum would help guide state legislators who are working to break a deadlock between BPW and mayor and council.
BPW manages Lewes’ drinking water, wastewater, electricity and stormwater. Basic functions for a community. Hugely important. If those systems aren’t functioning well, the whole town is crippled.
The past three years have seen a rough run for the BPW. After decades of agreeing to the city’s request that no properties outside city limits be provided utilities without a signed pre-annexation agreement, BPW reversed its position. The board said it would no longer require such agreements and ultimately filed suit against the city seeking a court decision declaring the BPW an independent body not beholden to mayor and council. That litigation cost taxpayers and ratepayers more than $300,000 and ended with no decision or resolution. A total waste.
In the midst of that fiasco, a malfunction at the wastewater treatment plant resulted in hundreds of thousands of gallons of partially treated wastewater diverted into the marsh. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued violation notices.
In the same three-year period, the BPW has had to deal with findings of lead in the water supplies of some residents. And now more money is being spent on lobbying and public relations related to the fight with the city.
The mayor and council have seen enough. They want a charter change that would make the BPW an appointed board answerable to mayor and council, rather than the current elected board. BPW is fighting tooth and nail against the change.
The legislators are caught in the middle and need help. A referendum is the right tool. Set the date, let the two sides make their cases to the public via a public meeting and videoconferencing, and let people cast their ballots. It’s time to end the contentious squabbling, expensive litigation, and costly public relations and lobbying campaigns.