Ocean outfall equals Rehoboth downfall

April 3, 2014

The decision by Rehoboth officials to utilize the ocean off the city’s beaches as a disposal solution for its wastewater problems is a classic example of flawed thinking and reckless risk taking. Let’s face it, the beach and its water are what brings the people to Rehoboth - it’s the sine qua non and keystone of Rehoboth’s economic viability and future. Indeed the name of the town is Rehoboth Beach - can it be any more explicit?

Why then would the city decide to deal with one environmental issue by risking another? Especially when the risk they are willing to take, and pass on not only to the citizens of Rehoboth but to the beach visitors and the business that survive on them, is based on a consultant’s estimate as to the outfall’s economic savings to the city. It can be crystallized by the old maxim - You can pay me now or you can pay me later. In this instance, however, the pay me later option could very well mark the steady decline in tourist activity, associated business as well as real estate values and the tax and other revenue they produce.

If the ocean outfall takes place Rehoboth will become known as the beach off which the city dumps its sewage. And while that statement is not completely accurate it does not matter because that will be the perception, and it is a well accepted principle that perception trumps facts when it comes to public relations. And, once that bell has rung it cannot be un-rung. Why would those seeking a pleasant seaside vacation come here when the beaches in New Jersey and southern Maryland will not be stigmatized by the idea of a pipe pumping treated effluent into them? Look up the synonyms for effluent and you will not want that either if given a choice.

I cannot understand why the Rehoboth-Dewey Chamber of Commerce and the Sussex County Association of Realtors have not spoken out on this situation when both organizations did not hesitate to trumpet the five-star ratings the beaches have received over the past few years.

Why risk what is the city’s most critical economic element because a consultant says it will have less risk and be less costly. Less risk to whom - the beach goers, the marine life, the city’s business community? How is that risk is quantified? The high water purity ratings would seem to indicate there is no risk now, so why would the city want to throw the dice and endanger that status

Mayor Cooper has said that 500-700 acres of land would be needed for the spray alternative but it is “…hard to find.” Since one square mile equals about 640 acres I would ask about the large tract of open land from Coastal Highway east on Holland Glade Road, or even along the Junction & Breakwater Trail - is there not a square mile or two there that could be used for the spray alternative? The spraying may be more costly than the outfall but what are the facts and figures? Is it more costly than having the town by-passed and no longer known as a family centered resort area with clean water and five star beaches?

Lastly, the recent reporting and a Jan. 10 Cape Gazette editorial would have us believe that the decision to move ahead with this self destructive process is now the responsibility of the secretary of DNREC. I view this as the city and its officials trying to create a straw man to blame if their flawed decision goes wrong.

It’s not DNREC that is playing Russian roulette with the life blood of this resort; it is the town’s lack of focus on the possible consequences long term resulting from fuzzy fiscal calculations. Before it is too late Rehoboth should reexamine the spray irrigation potential.

As Henry Ford said, “Failure is he opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. If our ocean is treated as a dump then it won't be long before the town suffers and may require a name change to just plain Rehoboth. That would be on the city, not DNREC.

Matt Maher
Rehoboth Beach

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