LEWES — A plan to connect a manufactured-home community experiencing failed septic systems with the city’s sewer network has received important conditional approval, the state announced Tuesday.
Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said Tuesday that plans to connect the Donovan Smith Manufactured Home Community to the Lewes Board of Public Works’ sewer system are proceeding, following the issuance of a conditional letter of approval of the state-funded loan mechanism that will provide financing for the connection.
The community owner’s lender had to sign off on the financing arrangement for the loan so the connection could proceed, and a conditional approval was then secured by the owner, DNREC confirmed Monday, following months of negotiation.
In late July, Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said Donovan Smith MHC can hook up to city services but would need to be annexed. “We are prepared to do that,” Mayor Becker said at the time.
Donovan Smith was chosen as a pilot project for Delaware’s Clean Water Initiative for Underserved Communities — with DNREC, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and the Delaware State Housing Authority partnering, at Gov. John Carney’s behest, to develop a priority list for communities that have longtime water and wastewater issues.
The combination of DNREC’s enforcement of wastewater regulations and financial help for Donovan Smith aims to end water pollution at the site by moving the community from septic systems to the Lewes central sewer system.
The initiative will use the approach being piloted with Donovan Smith to institute water and wastewater improvements in other similar communities.
“There are a number of manufactured home communities in our state — especially downstate — with longtime septic issues where putting the cost of a sewer connection on the residents would be a tremendous financial burden. Finding a way to mandate the sewer connection without burdening the residents or possibly bankrupting the park — and leaving the residents without anywhere to live — is the tightrope we must walk, and which the state financing supported by Gov. Carney is making possible,” DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin said in a statement. “We are working to make a difference in the lives of these residents and in the environment, one step at a time.”
State financing, expected to be in the $5 million range, is a loan that, if conditions are met, will turn into a grant.
“It’s a loan with important conditions that the property owner must agree to, including a condition prohibiting the property owner from passing on sewer fees or other associated costs of connecting to the public sewer and water ... to the residents. Those restrictions will remain in place for a period of 20 years, after which the loan is forgiven, as long as the property owner complies with the conditions,” said DNREC spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie.
“That’s why the property owner must obtain the subordination agreement from its lender, so that these conditions will be binding on subsequent property owners, as well. The department is trying to help the residents by providing this financial assistance, and these conditions are necessary to ensure that this money benefits the residents and not the current or any future property owner.”
Several attempts to contact Kenneth Burnham, owner of Donovan Smith MHC, by phone and email were unsuccessful.
With this conditional letter of approval, DNREC also announced it has issued a second notice of violation to Donovan Smith, following an initial notice given in July.
Issued Monday, the second NOV followed a compliance inspection and two environmental-complaint investigations, which found additional violations associated with several small wastewater-treatment and disposal systems in the community that were not previously addressed in the July notice.
One of the violations was a collapsing septic tank with wastewater overflowing and ponding on the grounds — with no barrier preventing human or pet contact with untreated wastewater, a significant public health hazard.
The first NOV documented Donovan Smith’s ongoing noncompliance and established deadlines for the owner to correct problems and move forward on the sewer connection with financing from the Clean Water Initiative.
“While we are making progress with the owner toward the goal of connecting to Lewes central sewer, we are also holding him accountable for compliance in the meantime,” said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti. “The ‘conditional approval’ was provided following the lender’s signing off on the financing agreement with the owner — it was not an approval of the corrective actions required by DNREC in this latest NOV. In fact, the second NOV cites Donovan Smith MHP for delay on taking actions required in the July NOV, as well as additional violations found during recent inspections.”
According to the latest enforcement notice, though DNREC received updates from Donovan Smith concerning interim corrective actions, initiation of the required system pump-outs and submission of a full corrective plan did not occur within the time established in the July NOV.
This second NOV cites Donovan Smith for these delays, as well as additional violations that have occurred since July. And though Donovan Smith has since initiated system pump-outs and submitted a preliminary corrective plan, this second NOV requires additional interim actions.
The DNREC enforcement measure also calls for amendments to the corrective action plan to address additional violations, monthly communication with residents on the status of corrections and more rigorous inspection and reporting to mitigate additional environmental and public health concerns until the sewer connection is achieved.