Cape Gazette
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Milton council opts to not sell land to Tidewater

Utility sought purchase of wastewater plant land
By Nick Roth | Jul 12, 2013
Artwork by: Nick Roth Tidewater Environmental Services Inc. recently offered to buy property on Front Street where its wastewater treatment facility is located. Milton Town Council turned down the $200,000 offer for the 6.31-acre parcel.

Milton Town Council will hold onto the land of its former wastewater treatment facility.

The Front Street plant is owned by Tidewater Environmental Services, but operated on town-owned land for free as part of an agreement forged in 2007. Tidewater pays the town $1,500 per home added to the system.

With an eye on future expansion, Tidewater officials offered Milton Town Council at its July 1 meeting $200,000 to purchase the 6.1-acre parcel in order to upgrade its operation. As part of the original agreement, Tidewater was to demolish the plant when a new facility was built off Sam Lucas Road. However, the deal was contingent upon growth in the town that has not occurred. As a result, Tidewater says it plans to continue using the Front Street facility for at least another 10 years.

Tidewater President Gerard Esposito said his company is in the process of planning upgrades to meet more stringent standards taking effect in 2015.

“We thought that, all things considered, one option that could bring value to both parties was to offer to acquire the plant [land],” he said.

Bruce Patrick, Tidewater vice president and general manager, said the utility is working to improve on its treatment of nitrogen and phosphorus, and it would have been advantageous for the company to own the land where the plant is located.

“To build a new plant you're looking at a lot of money – $10 million to $12 million,” he said. “We're looking at what we can add onto the existing plant to get us through the next 10 to 12 years at the most economical cost.”

Recently, the submitted a conditional-use application to Sussex County Planning & Zoning to operate a wastewater facility at Cedar Grove and Robinsonville roads in Lewes.

Many residents used the meeting's public participation period to voice their opposition to Tidewater's offer.

“The river was the key to Milton's past successes, and I think it's the key to our future success,” said Marianne Lester. “Every town and every city has to have an infrastructure, and some people have to be in business to provide it, but every town and city doesn't have to have it in our most crucial, most appealing, most attractive, most visible part of our future.”

Lester pointed to Wilmington's rejuvenation of the river front as an example of what Milton could do with its waterfront property.

“This could be a destination,” she said. “It's not going to be a destination if the main feature of our town is taken up by a sewer treatment plant.”

Ginny Weeks said the town should not engage in any business with Tidewater because the company did not fulfill its part of an agreement that was struck when the company took over ownership of the plant. According to the contract, the town would sell 18 acres of land to Tidewater for $1.5 million. The utility was to use the land to build a new sewer plant; however, the town's projected growth did not occur as planned and the land was never sold to Tidewater.

“Please, not a square inch of land to them,” Weeks told council. “They have not been good neighbors. If we can't sell them that 18 acres, [they should] use that $1.5 million to buy land somewhere else and move that atrocity out of town. That's why they got the deal; they were willing to tear it down and move it out, and now they're not going to do it.”

While Councilman John Collier was not in favor of selling the land, he did come to the defense of Tidewater.

“I can't really sit here and belittle Mr. Esposito for not delivering on his promises because he gave us exactly what was promised in the contract. You just had to read the contract,” he said.

Collier said there was no advantage to the town to sell the land, and he still has hope that the economy will turn around, and Tidewater can build a new plant elsewhere.

Mayor Marion Jones said she would like to continue to working with Tidewater on ways for the utility can compensate Milton for using the land.

“I applaud the first attempt at a means of some type of income for this town which for the last almost six years received nothing from Tidewater being on that property,” she said. “I do think we need to consider negotiating with the utility company as to some other way we may realize that revenue without the sale of the property.”

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