March 21, 2001

Brandywine Hundred is slated to be the initial beneficiary of a massive upgrading of the county's sewer system which will be announced when County Executive Thomas Gordon delivers his budget proposal to County Council on Mar. 27.

"Our system is the oldest and is worn out, having lived well beyond its useful life," which is about 20 to 30 years, said Councilman Robert Weiner, whose second district covers most of the hundred. "It is 40 years and older. ... Parts of the system are collapsing, leaking and backing up into [residents] homes and businesses."

Details are not yet available, but it is expected that the work will cost about $70 million, start in early 2002 and take five to seven years to complete. County Council must approve the capital budget, but is expected to do so.

There are about 1,600 miles of county-owned pipe, ranging in size from three to 40 inches. Another  1,600 miles of privately-owned lateral pipe link the county system to individual properties.

In a recently-published publicity flyer, Gordon was quoted as saying that the county's sanitary sewer system has "never been comprehensively rehabilitated" and poses a serious health danger.

The sanitary system, which carries flushed waste to a sewage treatment plant along the Delaware River, is separate from the storm-draining system, which carries untreated runoff to various streams.

Gordon's office did not respond to Delaforum requests to discuss the situation and the project with county officials, but Weiner confirmed that Brandywine Hundred has been targeted as the highest priority in the countrywide program. He said that the highest priority within that priority is replacement of the Stoney Creek pump station located east of Philadelphia Pike and Silverside Road. That alone is a $3 million to $4 million project.

The publicity flyer indicated that the county plans to take a two-pronged approach. While repairs and replacements of worn out and damaged pipes are being made, it will seek out and stop unauthorized and illegal uses which overtax the sewers. An undetermined but large number of householders are believed to be employing so-called 'French drains' which carry basement water into the sanitary system. There also are other illegal hookup to be discovered.

"They're out there and now they can be found," Weiner said.

It is uncertain whether the county will seek penalties or just to have such links disconnected. Residents pay for sewer service based on the amount of potable water they purchase over the course of a year. Using the system to clear flooded basements and the like could be regarded as 'theft of service'.

Use of non-toxic smoke pumped into the sewers will permit determination of the locations of breaks and cracks in the pipes. Recent technology enables workers to  thread polyvinyl chloride plastic liners into existing metal or clay pipes to restore their integrity. Both procedures avoid the necessity for extensive digging for the buried pipes.

Weiner said a further problem in Brandywine Hundred is capacity of the system. Most of the area north of Silverside Road, in particular, has limited capacity because that area was largely undeveloped when the system was installed. There are some places in the hundred, he added, "where there literally is no capacity to add even one additional house" to the network.

The councilman disclosed that the Gordon administration quietly terminated an agreement negotiated by the predecessor  Dennis Greenhouse administration to allow the Southern Delaware County (Pa.) Sewer Authority, to feed sewage into the New Castle County system. That agency has redirected most of its flow elsewhere and expects to have it all removed by the end of the year. 

"I opposed that as a major issue when I ran for office [in 1996]. It amounted to selling them capacity that we didn't have," Weiner said. 

2001. All rights reserved.





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