firms which have residential projects in the area of
the county south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal
stuck in the approval pipeline will be able to
proceed with them -- provided the firms bear the
cost of providing sanitary sewer service.
A short-term plan for
starting to extend the county sewer system into that
area, recommended by an environmental engineering
consultant, calls for installing a limited amount of pipe
and two pumping stations connecting the as-yet-undeveloped
second 'water farm' northeast of Middletown.
Meanwhile, the consultant
recommends that county government conduct a comprehensive
professional evaluation of at least eight suggested
alternatives to the grandiose plan put forth by the previous
Tom Gordon administration and come up with a new long-range
plan to meet the needs of what everyone agrees is the
county's primary growth area. The alternatives range from
discharging more treated effluent into Appoquinimink Creek
or the Delaware River to using community septic systems.
Together, it is agreed, the
two plans will provide for the most extensive -- and
expensive -- public works project in the history of New
The short-term plan would
take four to eight years and cost an estimated $15 million
to $20 million.
There is no telling at this
stage what the long-range one will cost, but consultant
James Shelton, of the Wilmington office of White Plains,
N.Y.-based Malcolm Pirnie, said the alternatives would
result in 'savings' of up to $80 million in capital costs
and $250 million in operating costs over the course of the
40-year life expectancy of the new infrastructure.
Continuing with the Gordon
plan -- which, officially, is still on the table -- "would
be the worst-case scenario," Shelton said.
The Gordon administration
attached a $100 million pricetag to its plan, but Shelton
told County Council's special services committee on Oct. 11
that a more realistic figure is at least double that,
without providing for inflation or including the cost
of property the county would have to require to process the
sewage and dispose of the treated effluent.
"The biggest problem is that
it's a partial plan," he said.
County Executive Christopher
Coons -- who repeatedly referred to the Gordon plan as
something he "inherited" from the previous administration --
did not specifically accept the Malcolm Pirnie
recommendations, but clearly indicated that he regarded them
as a starting point to, in his words, "begin working toward
responsible solutions" to the problem of providing for
anticipated and desired growth.
He said deciding upon a
specific course of action will await response to a series of
public meetings with affected interests, including
developers, the business community, civic associations and
residents. He said implementation will require some
legislative action by County Council but did not specify
what that would be.
At a press briefing before
the Council committee meeting, he said he would like to "get
started before the end of the year" on whatever is decided
Looking beyond the short-term
plan, Coons indicated that his current thinking is to have
developers -- and ultimately their house-buying customers --
bear much of the cost of the new infrastructure. The
alternative would be to pay for it by bonded debt which
would have to be financed by taxes or sewer fees imposed on
all county residents.
Coons said that soon after
taking office last January, he decided to halt any
further work related to the Gordon administration plan and
to hire Malcolm Pirnie to take a fresh and independent look
at it. The firm has a national reputation in its field.
The Coons administration also
is taking a fresh look at several previously authorized
capital projects which have not been begun and possibly
never will be.
At the committee meeting
Councilwoman Patty Powell noted that the Malcolm Pirnie
contract is for $500,000 and questioned why she and her
Council colleagues were previously unaware of it.
Powell represents part of the affected area. Richard
Przywara, general manager of the Department of Special
Services, said that it was publicly advertised and bid and,
as such, did not require Council approval.
Coons said the county will
keep its commitments to provide sewage service for new
schools in the Appoquinimink and New Castle County
Shelton said the decision to
split project planning into short- and long-range components
was done "to buy time" while the more extensive and complex
scheme is being put together. The intent was "to break the
logjam and let [some] development move forward while we
decide what the long-term plan will be," he said.
There are 39,000 acres in the
unincorporated part of the affected area of which about 25%
has been developed and another 10% is 'protected' from
development in various ways.
There are plans to
build about 8,000 houses in various stages of the land
use approval process, he said. "Currently available and
uncommitted [sewage treatment] capacity will only hand a
small fraction of [that]," he added.
How to provide for the
difference and meet future demand requires a near-complete
makeover of the original plan, he said. "We're doing this to
support development in the area. ... The current plan sort
of hopes the future will work itself out."