Delaware Public Media

As Rehoboth outfall moves forward, heads turn to construction, environmental concerns

Aug 3, 2017

City of Rehoboth Beach officials are prepared to press ahead with the ocean outfall project after receiving several bids.

 

They are claiming the $52.5 million ocean outfall will be over-budget, giving the city a reason to potentially go with the lowest bidder for the project.

 

 

Manson Construction Company of Seattle is the lowest bidder, asking for $28 million to construct the outfall while other companies have submitted bids over $40 million.

 

But Commissioner Kathy McGuiness says she’s concerned about a 1998 allegation where the EPA fined Manson more than $1 million for illegal dumping and dredging.

 

“The price of this job is far too important, not just to Rehoboth Beach and our coastline, but to Delaware when you look at everything comprehensively. I hope we look at this beyond the price tag,” McGuiness said. 

 

It’s a risk, said Gregg Rosner, the clean water adviser for the Delaware Surfrider Foundation. He wants to know how transparent any construction company will be with the work they do on the outfall. 

 

“What are they going to be doing out in the ocean that we won’t be seeing, that we will be seeing?” Rosner said. “Low bid doesn’t mean the best bid. It just means the cheapest, and Rehoboth will be getting what they pay for.”

 

Additionally, a complaint about unsafe worker conditions filed in 2014, propelled the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to inspect one of Manson’s worksites near Seattle. Manson was issued 12 violations after the inspection.

 

The city is looking into the OSHRC and EPA violations, but Mayor Sam Cooper points out the EPA violations were made almost 20 years ago.

 

“That would be like saying we won’t hire anybody who has ever been arrested for speeding, or something. I don’t have any idea what the seriousness of these things is," Cooper said.

 

Cooper continued, “I’ll leave it to our engineers to make that evaluation. Nothing that I’ve heard indicates to me that this firm has a pattern of deliberate violations or is unsafe.”

 

Rehoboth city officials are meeting this Monday to consider a treatment services contract with Sussex county, which is partnering with them on the outfall. Cooper said the city also needs to give a construction company the final go-ahead to begin working.  

 

Environmental concerns remain about the outfall:

While the city prepares to select a company that will start construction in October, some environmental groups remain concerned about what an ocean outfall could do to the surrounding environment and tourism.

 

Suzanne Thurman, the executive director for the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute, said she was dismayed that the city chose to go with an outfall pipe that will dump treated wastewater into the ocean, when it had less costly, more environmentally-friendly options, like constructed wetlands.

“We were so hoping that the city would look at the big picture and select something that really showed an eye to concerns for preserving and protecting the marine environment, particularly since Rehoboth is such a resort community,” Thurman said.

 

Wastewater treatment plants don’t treat for heavy metals or pharmaceuticals. Thurman said she is concerned those toxins will remain in the effluent that is pumped into the ocean and they could ultimately cause cancers in marine animals.

 

And when construction starts in October, that will interfere with the migration period of large whales and winter seals, Thurman said.

 

She filed an appeal as an individual resident to request that work stoppages be put in place to lessen any potential harmful impacts of the outfall on marine mammals during migration periods.

 

“We were asking at the very least for some mitigation during the construction of the pipe, for example,” Thurman said. “They’re pushing to rush this very quickly.”

 

Members of the Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation say they’re concerned about how an outfall pipe will affect tourism in Rehoboth Beach, particularly if pharmaceuticals go through the pipe and into the water. Rosner said pharmaceuticals could “gradually grind down the marine ecosystem.”

 

“And we’ll lose all the food sources for all these animals. There's a general depravity of the water and conditions and of course it all comes back onto swimmers,” Rosner said.

 

He continued, “The future is not as grand as people think it is in Rehoboth and Cape Henlopen State Park — adjacent to the beach.”

 

Rehoboth officials decided to go with an outfall to be compliant with a court order to stop discharging wastewater into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by June 1, 2018, but officials have been looking at options to be wastewater compliant since 1998.

 

DNREC approved Rehoboth to construct an outfall in late May this year after determining it met legal and scientific standards and requirements.