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July 28,  2011

Sump pump disconnection
program still hasn't begun

Residents of Green Acres are still waiting to see what will happen when the county Department of Special Services moves to eliminate illegal connections of sump pumps to the sanitary sewer system. The so-called 'clearwater' program, which was scheduled to get under way in early spring, is still on hold. County spokesman C.R. McLeod told Delaforum that it is now expected to begin  in August.

Although he said it has not yet been prepared, a letter will be sent to all 377 homes in the community off Silverside Road explaining the program. County inspectors will begin looking for violations about two weeks after the letter goes out, he said.

As originally presented in March, the plan is for the  inspectors to visit each house to determine if there are any illegal connections. If disconnection is required, the homeowner will be given “a reasonable amount of time” for that to be done. Upon completion of the work, there will be a re-inspection and, if the result is satisfactory, the homeowner, after presenting receipts, will be reimbursed for the actual cost incurred. Reimbursement will be capped at $500 for each of one or two sump pumps and $50 for one downspout disconnected. Residents were assured at a community meeting that the cost is not expected to exceed that limit. McLeod said there has been no change in the plan.

It is uncertain how many violations will be found. The reason the program is being done on a pilot basis is to get an indication of how widespread the practice is before the program is expanded to include all of suburban Brandywine Hundred. Department officials previously said they thought about 15% of the houses throughout the hundred had such connections, but admitted that was just a guess.

Although the connections have been illegal for many years, there has been no enforcement effort. As a result, builders routinely made the hook-ups. County government now want to not only enforce the law but also eliminate existing connections, no matter how old or who was responsible for them, as an alternative to a costly expansion of capacity in the sewer system to comply with a mandate from the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate discharges into the Delaware River. The fine for not complying with the environmental orders would be far more than the $5 million in capital money the disconnect subsidies are expected to cost, officials have said.

Asked why it has taken so long to get the pilot program started, McLeod replied, "There really is no delay in our view. It has just taken longer to prepare for the program and select a public relations firm to be on board during the pilot program to gauge and advise on public perception and cooperation."

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Read previous Delaforum article: Sewer disconnects will be painless, residents are told

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