Rehoboth Beach to borrow $5 million for water plant work

Cape Gazette
Kevin Spence, September 4, 2006

Rehoboth Beach residents could see a new water treatment plant get under way this spring if they pass a referendum allowing officials to borrow up to $5 million.

The commissioners on Monday, Aug. 21, unanimously scheduled a September public hearing on borrowing money to modernize and upgrade the city’s water plant, which was built in the 1950s.

The new water system would offer fluoridated water and increase the city water supply by one third, but city officials say the project will require no additional rate increases.

Water rates were increased in March in anticipation of increased energy costs and improving the city’s water treatment plant.

Planned upgrades include building a new 4,700-square-foot water treatment plant that could withstand hurricane-force winds and retrofitting existing wells, said Robert Palmer, senior engineer with Salisbury, Md.-based firm, Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc. The new plant would be built next to the existing one, he said.

A new system would not only benefit Rehoboth residents but those who live nearby also. Three wells at the Lynch Water Treatment Plant, located just north of Outback Steakhouse on Route 1, supply water to Rehoboth Beach and to those in Breezewood, Henlopen Acres, North Shores and Dewey Beach.

Residents outside Rehoboth Beach proper pay about double the amount that in-city residents pay, said Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Ron Paterson.

Two other wells are located in Breezewood and another one lies between Old Landing Road and Route 24.

On a peak day, Rehoboth’s entire water system can produce 4.5 million gallons, Palmer said.

“Rehoboth is sort of a unique system because it’s a resort,” Palmer said.

During winter months, the city uses only one-fourth of its peak capacity, he said.

”But in order to provide for the commercial areas and fire department in peak season, there is a tremendous demand,” said Palmer.

Paying for the plant
Palmer said the plant will cost about $7.6 million.

That cost includes more than $1 million that Delaware Department of Transportation paid the city to move a well at the Lynch plant because it was located within the right-of-way of Route 1. DelDOT plans to expand Route 1 and adjacent sidewalks over the next two years. Moving the well was necessary to upgrade the road, which carries far more traffic than it did in the 1950s, when the wells were built.

The project includes building two new wells, however, to replace the capacity from the old one.

“The unfortunate part was, as I understand it, one well could not replace that well,” said Paterson. The old well will be abandoned and sealed, said Palmer.

Two other older wells at the Lynch site are too close together and cannot be operated at the same time.

To compensate, one well will remain in operation and a new one will be constructed, he said.

The state’s Office of Drinking Water provided a fluoridation grant for $210,000, and an additional $1.4 million will come from the city’s capitalization fees, said Palmer.

Other funding sources include the city’s operating and maintenance budget and fees from a developer who paid for water main installation. Together, those funds total roughly $630,000.

Officials anticipate borrowing the rest of the money from the state through low-interest loans. Commissioners set the public hearing for Sept. 18. Within 60 days of the hearing, a referendum will be held, which if passed enables the city to borrow the money.

Treatment proposed
The proposal also calls for adding caustic sodium hydroxide to the water supply, to raise pH levels.

In 2003, officials found lindane, a common pesticide used until the 1980s, in city water. High lindane levels can be toxic, but Rehoboth’s levels are one-tenth maximum limits, Palmer said. Most municipalities nationwide have some traces of contaminants in their water supplies, he said.

The proposal also includes using carbon to absorb lindane, said Palmer. “We suspect from the testing the city has done that the lindane has been there a long time,” he said. The city is proactively treating for the possibility that lindane may increase, but since 2003, the concentration has not risen, he said.

Said Cooper, “As soon as the referendum passes, the city can move ahead.”