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10/12/2008
Sewer upgrade to cost millions;NCCo needs to clear aging lines, avoid fines - News Journal

Sewer upgrade to cost millions
NCCo needs to clear aging lines, avoid fines
BY ANGIE BASIOUNY • THE NEWS JOURNAL • OCTOBER 12, 2008

New Castle County wants to spend $7 million in the next three years on sewer maintenance programs that will help the aging system meet newer federal wastewater guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

County Council will introduce legislation Tuesday to pull $1.45 million out of its sewer reserve account, which stands at $13.2 million, to pay for the first year.

Residents can expect a sewer rate hike during each of the next two years to pay for the rest of the program, although officials said it's too early to determine the amount.

Last spring, County Executive Chris Coons announced he would increase the sewer rate by 4.4 percent -- or an extra $10 a year for the average household. That amount is now in flux because the county is in arbitration with the city of Wilmington over how much the county pays the city for use of its wastewater treatment plant.

The push for increased funding comes from the Department of Special Services, which is charged with maintaining all the county's sewers, parks and facilities.

Department manager Tracy Surles said the money will be spent to meet the goals of the federal mandate, which is being administered by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The top goal is to close the last remaining sewer outfall to the Delaware River. Raw sewage that has been diluted by rainwater is released from the pipe into the river when the sewer system is overwhelmed during heavy storms.

The EPA fined the county $100,000 earlier this year for its overflows.

"The areas where we are told we need to improve is reflected in this," Surles said of the $7 million proposal.

The money will be spent on four programs:
•Closed-circuit camera inspection. The county currently feeds a small camera through the sewer to get a picture of problem areas. But increased funding would allow workers to inspect all parts of the system on a regular basis.
•Hydrogen sulfide mitigation. Hydrogen sulfide is a gas produced by wastewater that is corrosive to pipelines and wastewater treatment plants. The county wants to use a special treatment method that would reduce the amount of the gas.
•Chemical root control. Tree roots growing into pipes are a source of blockages and leaks in the sewer system. The traditional method of dealing with roots is to cut them from the inside of the pipes, Surles said. But eventually they grow back. The county wants to use a chemical in combination with cutting to permanently eliminate the roots.
•Trunk line maintenance. The county wants to adopt newer methods for routine maintenance of sewer trunk lines, which are the largest transmission pipes.
•Reduction of fats, oils and grease. These substances build up in pipes and create clogs in the sewer system. Clogged pipes can be cleaned with chemical treatments and grease-eating bacteria. The county also wants to continue a public awareness campaign to stop residents from dumping fats down the drain.

Council members said they don't want to spend the money, but it seems unavoidable.

"People don't realize how much money we have to spend so we don't get fined by other governments," Council President Paul Clark said.

The legislation to authorize this year's spending will come before council for a floor vote no earlier than Oct. 28.

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or abasiouny@delawareonline.com.

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