will be required to
disconnect illegal sewer links
24,000 houses in Brandywine Hundred would be inspected and
homeowners would be required to eliminate illegal connections to
the sanitary sewer network under a tentative plan presented to a
County Council committee.
The plan calls for
county government to share the cost of the disconnects, which in
most cases could range up to $4,000, with homeowners. Those who
fail to make them or refuse to admit inspectors to monitor what
is done would be fined. Continued existence of offending
connections could ultimately block sale of such properties.
include sump pumps, punctured floor drains, so-called French
drains and roof drains.
engineer David Hofer told the committee that he was presenting
the plan to get lawmakers' reactions and indicated that the
Department of Special Services is open to modifications before
bringing forth enabling legislation. He said, however, that the
county is under an environmental-compliance order to have a plan
in place and begin to implement it by the end of June, 2010.
He declined after
the meeting to comment on a timetable for moving ahead with
draft legislation. "We have seven months to fine-tune [the
plan]," he said.
offered several comments, but the tone of conversation at the
meeting seemed to indicate general agreement-in-principle. All
13 members of Council are members of its standing committees.
significant questions raised had to do with what will happen to
the diverted water -- referred to in the trade as clearwater.
communities and in certain neighborhoods we're going to have a
serious drainage problem," John Cartier said. "Won't we start
flooding other people out?" Timothy Sheldon asked.
Hundred alone, illegal connections increase the daily sewage
flow by 25 million to 50 million gallons during rainstorms,
Hofer said. The average daily flow from the entire county when
there is no rain is 53 million gallons. The added flow is more
than the Wilmington sewage treatment plant can handle with the
result that untreated sewage is dumped into the Delaware River.
The state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental
Control has ordered that to be remedied.
system to accommodate peak flow would cost $189 million, he
said. By contrast, the cost-sharing plan as now envisioned would
cost $5 million. Failure to comply with the state order would
invite further action by the federal Environmental Protection
Agency, including massive fines, he warned.
"Doing nothing is
not an option," Michael Svaby, general manager of the Department
of Special Services, said. The department is the county's public
Hofer said at the
meeting on Dec. 1 that cracking down on illegal connections is
necessary because they contribute about a third of the peak
flow. The department is focusing initial efforts on Brandywine
Hundred because that area has by far the largest concentration
of the connections with about one in every seven houses having
them. Virtually none of the large commercial properties and very
few of the smaller ones have such connections, he said.
that many homeowners -- probably a majority of them -- are
unaware of their illegality. However, he maintained that the
prohibition against such connections has been in county codes
dating back at least as far as 1958. Despite that, builders in
the past routinely installed them and real estate agents
seldom, if ever, referred to their existence.
And some homeowners
do not even realize they have such connections, he added.
"This isn't a
surprise. People have known for a long time they were going to
have to fix this," Councilman George Smiley said.
The problem of
mingling clearwater with sewage is fairly common around the
nation. Other jurisdictions, Hofer said, deal with it in a
variety of ways ranging from making required disconnects totally
at taxpayer's expense to putting the entire onus on homeowners.
New Castle County, he said, has chosen to "take the middle road"
in deciding how to finance the program.
The tentative plan
he presented called for paying what he referred to as an
"up-front incentive" of $500 for one sump pump disconnected and
$1,000 for two and $1,500 per punctured floor drain
disconnected. Maximum payment per house would be $2,500. Those
amounts apparently are irrespective of the actual cost of the
Cost of all but the
most difficult sump pump disconnects by a commercial plumber
would range up to $2,000. Floor drain disconnects would cost
twice as much. It is estimated that about 5% of disconnects
would be in the most difficult category and cost more. Where
remedial would obviously be cost-prohibitive, an exception to
the requirement to disconnect could be granted and
'grandfathered' to the property, he said.
the expense which homeowners would incur will be the most
objectionable feature of the plan when word of it gets around,
Council president Paul Clark said he would advocate using county
government's ability to float a tax-free bond issue at an
interest rate considerably below what a homeowner could obtain
as a means of financing the homeowner's share of the cost. What
in effect would be a loan to the homeowner would be repaid over
several years as an additional charge on the annual sewer fee.
Smiley said such an arrangement should also require homeowners
to bear a proportionate share of the cost of servicing the
Hofer said some
homeowners could choose to do the work themselves. "They could
go down to [a store], buy more tools and have fun," he quipped.
Regardless of who does the work, however, it would have to
measure up to set standards, he added.
The department, he
said, intends to provide training for licensed commercial
plumbers and other "qualified contractors who may wish to do
this work" and will prepare for general distribution a 'clearwater
elimination handbook' which "shows what needs to be done and
provides typical designs." In the end, however, "it will be
entirely up to the homeowners" how and by whom the disconnects
The plan provides
for inspectors to visit every house, business and institution in
Brandywine Hundred between next July and June 30, 2014, to
determine if they have illegal connections. Refusal to
disconnect would result in an initial $500 fine, which would
escalate with subsequent refusals. Homeowners, however, would
have an option to continue the connections, but that would
result in a charge equivalent to three times the average sewer
fee, countywide, on top of their actual sewer fee.
Failure to admit
the inspector to the house would also result in a fine although
the draft outline of the tentative plan does not specify what
that would be.
not be hired as county employees but supplied by an outside
consulting contractor. Hofer said a pilot program conducted to
provide data for drafting the tentative plan was conducted by a
consulting firm, which he did not identify. Its work was found
to be entirely satisfactory, he said.
Wherever in the
county illegal connections are discovered through
code-enforcement and other activities, the offending homeowners
would be required to disconnect them under the same terms.
Also, the plan
calls for a mandatory inspection and disconnects before a
property would be cleared to change ownership. That would be the
same as termite inspections now required for real estate
suggested that, with some homeowners, instead of providing an
alternative discharge for clearwater, "as soon as [the
inspector] leaves, they're going to put it back the way it was."