Selbyville council discusses natural gas utility for residents

As a new natural gas line approaches Selbyville, the town still has questions – namely, will residents get a piece of the action?

Chesapeake Utilities just completed the gas line to Mountaire in Frankford, and they are poised to build southward to Mountaire’s processing plant and other businesses in Selbyville, aiming for service availability by May 1.

Town council members have asked on multiple occasions about the company’s intent to offer natural gas access beyond those industrial and commercial users.

Darrell Wilson and Dorrie Moore of Chesapeake Utilities were present to answer questions at the March 12 town council meeting. They said more than 50 potential customers have been identified in town, and interest in natural gas is likely to grow as businesses begin connecting.
The main gas line will run along Route 113, and the pipes will split at a “city gate” before heading into the town station.

The council and several residents asked on Monday if natural gas would be available on Route 17, Route 54, at town hall or at schools.

Natural gas is considered an alternative utility, Moore said, so customers must be secured by the utility before the supply pipe is built. There must be enough customers to justify building the pipeline. Upfront prices are higher, but she estimated that customers see the returns and savings of using natural gas in three or four years.

When Chesapeake Utilities builds a pipeline, it must gain enough profits within the first six years to pay for the initial construction and infrastructure, which helps prevent shareholder losses. The company runs economic tests before installation. An area with many customers might pass those tests, while a place with few customers would not pass. For instance, the 14-mile pipe to Lewes required three major users, including Beebe Medical Center, and 100 other businesses.

The test determines exactly where the pipe will be built. Chesapeake Utilities did not indicate whether Selbyville areas have passed this economic test.

Moore said she must first gauge potential customer interest, so she often distributes surveys, visits homeowner associations and talks to businesses. She encouraged anyone interested in learning more about natural gas to contact her.

The utility is regulated by the state Public Service Commission, and Chesapeake Utilities hopes to continue the gas line farther south, to Berlin, Md.

The Selbyville Town Council had reviewed an initial draft of a franchise agreement with Chesapeake Utilities and submitted their concerns. Bob Dickerson, town manager, said the council raised many issues regarding engineering of the actual pipeline, road restoration, fees, permits, potential expansions, emergencies, taxes, legal reimbursements and so forth.

Chesapeake Utilities has since submitted the second draft of the franchise agreement, which the council will review this week.

Working with the Town’s feedback, Chesapeake Utilities made adjustments to the contract, regarding permit fees, design review fees, economic feasibility tests, a 20-year timeframe and a legal/engineering fee offer of $2,500.

In the future, Moore and Wilson said the gas line could expand eastward, based on customer interest and economic tests.

Mountaire chipping in for wastewater problems

Also at the March 12 meeting, officials reported that the Town believes, but has not confirmed, that Mountaire’s new waste treatment system is contributing to problem with the town’s wastewater system. Town Engineer Erik Retzlaff said he believes Mountaire mixes a polymer substance into wastewater. That sticks to large materials, and a layer of solids forms on top of the water. The scum layer can be removed, and the remaining water flows to the town’s wastewater treatment center.

However, the Mountaire polymer may be continuing to react in the pipes after mixing with residential waste down the line, which results in a scum layer forming at the Church Street pump station.
Dickerson said Mountaire has agreed to pay for a “de-foamer” mechanism that would address the scum layer at Church Street pump station. The estimated cost was $18,000, plus installation and parts.
However, this appears to be a temporary solution to fix the symptoms rather than resolving the problem itself. Councilmember Frank Smith III said a labor-intensive procedure – four hours of manpower daily – is required to manually clear the sludge, which could simply reform again in the headworks, where all town water is treated. He said the problem began after Mountaire began using the polymer treatment.

Selbyville officials plan to continue discussions and tests with Mountaire to address the problem at the source.

In other Selbyville news:

• The council approved grants of $100 to the Indian River High School Baseball Boosters; $200 for the Selbyville Public Library Summer Reading Program; and $200 for the Lower Sussex Little League.

• It was announced that the Calvary Pentecostal Church is seeking to build a new community center near its location just south of the Maryland/Delaware border in Bishopville. William Graham described the church’s vision for a 25,000-square-foot youth center as “one central place where people can bring their children, so youth are well-rounded and grow up to be good adults in our nation.”

To help keep kids off the streets, there would be activities such as sports, dance, art, after-school tutoring and so forth. Offerings could include anything from needlework and a nursery to GED coursework.

The Willie G. Dukes Community Action Program set aside 29 acres across from the Elks lodge for the project, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

• The council reminded citizens that the public sports fields are available for use but must be reserved with a permit.

• The council unanimously approved the final resolution authorizing the Town to borrow $1.4 million for water improvements. The Delaware Department of Health & Social Services, Division of Public Health, will issue the zero-interest loan for improvements to the town’s drinking water facilities, including building two new wells and transmission main. Upon successful completion of the project, the loan principal will be forgiven in its entirety.

• The re-constituted council unanimously reappointed W. Scott Collins as police chief, Deborah McCabe as secretary/treasurer and Sandra Givans as assistant secretary/treasurer.

• In the month of January, Collins reported, Selbyville police received 139 calls for service, issued 121 tickets, made seven arrests and collected $1,754 in fines. Selbyville’s newest patrolman, A.J. McKechnie – a former Ocean View officer – was scheduled to begin work Tuesday, March 13, which brings the police force back to six people, “which gets us to a good spot,” Collins said.

It was also noted that Collins was nominated as vice-chair for Delaware Law Enforcement for Special Olympics, a group that supports and raises awareness for the Special Olympics.

“I’m quite honored to get asked to do that,” said Collins, who will serve as vice-chair in 2012 before becoming chairperson in 2013.

• Councilmember Richard Duncan Sr. expressed some concern regarding police notices about sex offenders in Selbyville. Collins said there are fewer convicted offenders living or working in the town now than there used to be (in the low teens, versus up to 20 at one time), and businesses that hire offenders as part of work-release programs are often good about keeping those employees indoors and away from school boundaries. Also, school resource officers and preschools are updated with photographs and information of the sex offenders, he said.

• The next Selbyville Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 2, at 7 p.m.