Cape Gazette

Markell says clean water is priority

Fee to help fund $800M in statewide projects
By Chris Flood | Mar 07, 2014
Photo by: Chris Flood Gov. Markell introduced a clean water initiative on March 4 that would pay for roughly $800 million worth of wastewater, stormwater and drinking water projects throughout the state by instituting a clean water fee. The plan is clean the state's impaired waters, like Love Creek, shown here at the Route 24 bridge, in Sussex County.

LEWES — Gov. Jack Markell wants to clean up Delaware's dirty water - and he wants Delawareans to help pay for it.

On Tuesday, March 4, Gov. Markell introduced a clean water initiative, Clean Water for Delaware's Future, that would pay for roughly $800 million worth of wastewater, stormwater and drinking water projects throughout the state by instituting a clean water fee.

“Clean water is essential for a healthy and prosperous Delaware,” said Markell during the unveiling of the plan in Wilmington. “We have made great strides reducing air pollution and cleaning up brownfield sites, yet nearly every waterway in Delaware, other than our beaches, remains unsafe for swimming and fishing, and nearly every community is struggling with more frequent flooding and storms.”

What the plan will do

Funds generated by the initiative will be used to support numerous critical projects including:

* remove toxics and restore streams and rivers

* repair and update wastewater and drinking water treatment plants

* modernize stormwater infrastructure in communities to improve flood and storm resilience

* support conservation/agricultural practices that prevent pollutants from reaching surface and ground waters

* protect and restore critical natural resources like wetlands and forests that help purify water and mitigate flooding

* make important upgrades to industries, which will systematically reduce impacts to water resources.

The governor proposed more than $500 million in wastewater-facility upgrades statewide. These include priority projects in all three counties –including underserved communities needing wastewater and drinking water improvements and several at-risk systems currently operated by homeowners associations in Sussex County. He also proposed more than $150 million in stormwater upgrades, more than $75 million for removing toxics, and more than $75 million in upgrades at industrial facilities.

The plan will be collected through county property taxes and generate $30 million annually, Markell said. The fee will leverage more than $120 million annually in total financing for clean water investments.

The amount a homeowner would pay for the proposed fee is based on acreage. For a single-family household living on a half-acre of land, the average cost would be about $45 annually. The fee would increase to between $65 and $85 a year for properties with more acreage. Larger multiresidential, commercial and industrial properties would pay more, with the maximum annual fee capped at $25,000.

Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said this was the wrong time to propose the plan, especially on the heels of a proposed 10-cent gas tax increase. On Jan. 29, Markell introduced a plan to pay for $500 million worth of transportation projects across the state by increasing the state's fuel tax from 23 cents to 33 cents and borrowing $50 million a year over the next five years. The new tax is estimated to raise $50 million a year.

“We’re just asking too much of Delaware’s people in bad economic times. We’re putting another tax burden on homeowners and businesses at a time when we should be lowering costs and spurring economic development,” he said. “There’s no denying we’ve got water-quality issues here and throughout the United States. But we need to address them at a time – and at a price – that makes sense.”

The state’s list of impaired waters includes 377 bodies of water that suffer from excess nutrients - nitrogen and phosphorus, low dissolved oxygen, toxics, and bacteria. Extensive analysis of chemical contaminants in fish has led to advisories that fish are unsafe to eat in more than 30 waterways statewide.

“The plan will invest in projects that improve water quality, improve community resiliency, protect our health and safety, support our multibillion-dollar tourism and agriculture industries, bolster the economic revitalization of our cities and towns, and increase property values - all while creating thousands of jobs for years to come,” said Markell.

House Minority Leader Daniel B. Short, R-Seaford, said the state's water problems were undeniable, but he wants to hear what constituents had to say about the plan before anything is done.

“Delaware’s citizens would collectively be contributing most of the $30 million raised through the new annual fee. I think we owe it to them to get their opinions on this proposal before we move ahead,” he said. “It should be debated, questioned and potentially changed to reflect citizens’ concerns and input as part of a process aimed at improving the plan and building a consensus for action.”

The existing Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan programs currently have about $30 million annually available to fund wastewater and drinking water projects, which the governor said was not nearly enough to finance many of the critical projects.

Markell said about 30 percent of the revenues from the new fee would go to wasterwater/drinking water upgrades, while stormwater upgrades would also get 30 percent. The remaining monies would go to conservation and agriculture projects (15 percent); toxics removal, site cleanup and stream restoration (20 percent); and industrial upgrades (5 percent).

The fund will help finance these projects through a combination of low or no-interest loans, affordability grants, credit enhancements, matches for federal grants, and leveraged private financing, all of which will reduce the cost of constructing clean water projects for municipalities and other entities.

Charlie Copeland, Delaware Republican Party chairman, released a statement shortly after the proposal was unveiled. He said the governor should focus on creating job opportunities, not proposing another new tax on Delawareans.

“This morning the governor lectured the citizens of Delaware again about what he feels are their obligations to the next generation, and proposed yet another new tax on Delawareans to make this happen. This time on tap water,” he said. “The truth is, we have a fundamental responsibility to provide an education and good job opportunities to the next generation of Delawareans. Gov. Markell has failed at both of these.”

Comments (4)
Posted by: Greg and Terri Kordal | Mar 07, 2014 07:42

We must also prevent further degradation of our waterways - including curbing new and inappropriate development.  Start with rejecting the Love Creek RV park.  Simply refer to the recent letter to the editor by Steve Britz - in which he provides all the necessary data on the pollution issues of Love Creek to support a NO vote by County Council. 

It is critical that we protect our waters in the Delmarva Peninsula.  As I reminded readers in my recent letter to the editor quoting excerpts of the Kevin Fleming book, Wild Delmarva - we are the protectors of these waters and wildlife for our children. 

I respectfully disagree with the Republican opposition - we must act now to clean our waters.  Equally important - we need to take actions to prevent further issues.  Stopping the RV park will cost nothing to taxpayers - yet will help keep our waterways cleaner. 

This is a great opportunity for all government to come together.  State, County, Democrat and Republican - find the optimum approach to insuring we have clean waterways.  Can't you all see that if our waters are polluted no one will come here?  You will be killing existing  jobs and the local economies.  I urge all government officials - use common sense and work together to protect our future.

Posted by: Barry Wayne Price | Mar 08, 2014 07:16

It has been so cold this winter in Washington, and Dover that politicians have actually been seen with their hands in their own pockets. "-)

Posted by: Barry Wayne Price | Mar 10, 2014 07:36

How come governor - that property owners are the ones to be targeted? This issue should be shared by all those that use our water resources. Tourists, and non-property owners. Your plan penalizes those that own property. I reckon it's an easy fix from your point of view which can be collected through our county tax system. Bad idea.

Posted by: Marion Gentul | Mar 12, 2014 13:42

It is not going to be an easy fix, it's going to take decades and we need to start taking steps now. Preventing a polluter from coming in, such as RV City or the Allen Harim plant, will cost us less in the long run. Yes, it is unfair that the polluters are not being held accountable - as citizens we should insist on this, but we also do not have the time to wait decades while the state identifies who polluted what, how much they should pay, and then spend more money on lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, all while our waters become even more polluted. I don't see it as a penalty for me as a taxpayer to help preserve what we have and clean up the mess because I will benefit in the long run. I want to enjoy clean water and nature, swim in clean water and eat any crabs or fish I might catch. As far as tourists contributing, that would be nice but will surely drive them away. As it is now, who would vacation here knowing they can't swim in the waters, other than the ocean, and can't eat anything they catch? Eventually, as was pointed out, that will kill Sussex County jobs and hurt the tourism industry because people will go elsewhere. If you lived elsewhere, would you give your kid a fishing pole and take them here? I'd be afraid to let them put their hand in the water for how bad it is, and it will only become worse if we wait for the polluters to step up and do the right thing - it will never happen. We have to act ourselves. As far as RV City is concerned, the only responsible action for our elected officials to take is simple common sense - reject this proposal. The wealthy landowners should also consider doing the right thing - donate the land to the Nature Conservancy or a similar entity. They all might want to put this question into their hearts and souls - will my legacy be that of a contributor to pollution, or a steward of the natural world for future generations to cherish and enjoy?

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