Rehoboth Beach commissioners last week approved a $310,000 change order to repave Henlopen Avenue over a force main that will pump city and county treated wastewater into the Atlantic Ocean.
Mayor Paul Kuhns says this change will create a sturdier street.
“Both cars and trucks are using Henlopen Avenue to travel from Rehoboth towards Henlopen Acres or North Shores as well as using Columbia [Avenue],” Kuhns said. “So it’s really to make a better foundation for the road and a more safe environment for the neighborhood.”
The original paving contract would have filled an 8-foot force main trench with dirt and sand, 6 inches of stone and 5 inches of backfill material. On top of that would have been 2 inches of asphalt.
The change order allows the backfill to be about 3.5 inches with 2 inches of top paving that will be spread across the entire street 22 feet across and up and down Henlopen Ave.
The project’s engineers from GHD recommended the change and officials agreed it was necessary.
“The longevity of that pavement will be 10 to 15 years rather than three to five years,” Kuhns said.
Opponents of the project like the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation say the extra expense and including Sussex County as a partner in the project are not what taxpayers voted for in the 2015 ocean outfall referendum. Gregg Rosner, the clean water adviser for the chapter, said he believes voter rights were trampled.
“What they voted for, what they’re getting, are two different things. For instance, if you had approved an elementary school and suddenly it didn’t have a library because the cost overruns, people would be outraged,” Rosner said. “And yet, everyone is looking the other way.”
Officials say the repaving is in the best interest of the outfall project and money is available in the city's $52.5 million budget to cover the expense.
In 2015, city taxpayers voted in a referendum for the Rehoboth outfall project, which included the ocean outfall pipe, a new effluent pumping station at the city’s treatment plant, a force main running from the treatment plant to the outfall, treatment plant improvements and changing the disposal of biosolids generated from the treatment plant to a different land application class method.
Many of the upgrades to the city's treatment plant were completed prior to the force main project, said City Spokeswoman Krys Johnson. Some are still ongoing, as they need to be completed when the project goes online by June 1.
"Right now filters are in service in our filter building," Johnson said. "Staff reported significant improvements in effluent quality. Right now testing of equipment and operator training is underway."
Johnson says the biosolids portion of the project, which changes the way biosolids are disposed of, should be completed in 2019. The cost of that is about $12 million.
Manson Construction, the contractor for the project, has until May 23 to complete the ocean work of the project. The city has a June 1 state and federally-mandated deadline to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
Eliminating the point source discharge from the canal:
Once Rehoboth Beach stops discharging its treated wastewater into the Lewes Rehoboth Canal, all major point source polluters will be out of the inland bays.
One smaller source is left – the former Vlasic Pickle Plant in Millsboro; but construction of a new deboning facility that was approved by the Sussex County Board of Adjustment Monday could pull that out.
Chris Bason, the executive director for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays says when Rehoboth stops discharging treated wastewater into the canal, it will remove one-third of the phosphorous pollution load from Rehoboth Bay instantly and over 17,000 pounds of nitrogen that go into the water annually, based on discharge amounts documented by city and state permits.
“That’s going to be a benefit to water quality, fish populations, shellfish populations,” Bason said, “it’s going to help keep the bacteria levels lower in the bay. All the good things we like about the bay are going to benefit because of this.”
Long flushing times in the bay allow pollution to stay in the water for a long period of time and cause algae blooms and low oxygen concentrations.
“So it’s about the worst place you could put a wastewater discharge,” Bason said.
But the ocean, he said, can quickly flush and dilute pollution levels in the discharge to trivial levels, so nutrients won’t have the same effect on ocean health as it did in Rehoboth Bay.
The Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute and the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have expressed concerns about how the outfall pipe could affect ocean health. Gregg Rosner from the Surfrider Foundation said he is worried about pharmaceuticals that may not be taken out of the wastewater during treatment.
“Pharmaceuticals, endocrine inhibitors – which inhibit proper growth of fish species – heavy metals, any traced amounts of contaminants, it is not 100 percent pure water – it impacts the marine environment.”