A $137,724 penalty given to the city of Harrington for wastewater overflows in 2010 will go toward a future public works project that has yet to be determined, officials say.


A $137,724 penalty given to the city of Harrington for wastewater overflows in 2010 will go toward a future public works project that has yet to be determined, officials say.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced the fine on Feb. 18 after more than a year of talks between city and state officials over the town’s sewage system.

“We’ve been going back and forth all year, trying to come up with a solution,” Harrington City Manager John Schatzschneider said.

What they worked out is that Harrington — along with Millsboro, which owes $376,303 for releasing too much sewage into nearby rivers — will be allowed to spend the money they owe on “projects that will benefit water quality in their respective communities.”

“Since we are moving forward, they took that into consideration with the fine,” Schatzschneider said. “It could have been much larger.”

Harrington has a $6 million project underway to tie its sewer system into Kent County’s, but Schatzschneider said the $137,724 would go into an entirely new project.

“They did not want to pay for something that was already in motion,” Schatzschneider said. “We’re looking at a few different projects, but I’d rather not say anything until DNREC has had a chance to look at it and sign off.”

The fine has its roots in heavy rain and snowfall in the winter of 2010. Rainwater and melting snow got into Harrington’s sewer system, and the sheer volume of it nearly flooded the lagoons the town uses to store untreated sewage.

“With that amount of snow, the lagoons filled up to their top edges, and we had to make a decision,” Schatzschneider said.

They decided to skip part of the treatment process, and over a four-day period, dumped sewage that had only been partially cleaned into Brown’s Branch.

DNREC’s release stated officials examining the effects of that dump found “visible signs of floating solids in Brown’s Branch, and state sampling of the branch found high levels of fecal enterococcus bacteria.”

The department’s report blames leaks in the city’s collection system - so-called “infiltration and inflow” - that lets rain and melted snow seep into the pipes. Whenever there’s a major storm, hundreds of thousands of extra gallons of water end up in the sewer system and flow into the storage lagoons. Once that extra water gets into the pipes, it mixes with the sewage and has to be purified with everything else.

“Harrington has acknowledged serious collection systems leaks in correspondence … dating back to 2006, but has failed to adequately address them over that time,” the release said.

Harrington’s city government started a detailed study of their sewer pipes in mid-2010 and has identified some of the worst problem areas, but the cost of fixing them was estimated at more than $1 million.

 

David LaRoss is a staff writer for the Milford Beacon, a sister paper to the Dover Post. Email him at david@milfordbeacon.com.