FRANKFORD – Feasibility, fluoride and forgiveness are words floating around Frankford these days.
A feasibility study to identify the safest implementation of fluoride to the town of Frankford’s water system looms as the lynch pin to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s forgiveness of more than $400,000 in the town’s outstanding loan debt.
Frankford council by 4-1 vote Feb. 14 accepted DNREC’s proposal in the town’s nearly year-long challenge of DNREC’s authorizing Mountaire to drill and operate a non-potable well for its feed mill operations at its Daisey Street plant.
The issue heightened to the town filing an appeal, challenging the validity of DNREC’s approval, with the Delaware Environmental Appeals Board last August. A Feb. 28 date was set but that hearing has been put on hold, town councilman/treasurer Marty Presley said.
Mountaire’s new well went into operation in January 2016. Last spring town officials noticed a substantial drop in its first-quarter water consumption; Mountaire historically had been the town’s biggest water customer, accounting for approximately a third of the town’s water usage.
The town estimated that water revenue loss at about $75,000 to $80,000 annually, Mr. Presley said.
Mountaire, in its defense, said the new water source was needed because the town’s system lacked high volume required for its chicken feed operation.
DNREC’s proposal has stipulations.
“Originally, they wanted us to immediately put a fluoride system on the water plant,” said Mr. Presley. “We had a meeting with them a couple weeks ago and we convinced them that we were not prepared to do that because our water plant operator is telling us it is really not a safe thing to do based on the current condition of the water plant.”
“We had meetings with DNREC and Department of Health and Social Services and the plant operator showed them why we couldn’t just turn it on,” said town council vice president Gregory Welch. “It was the way the plant was designed. It wasn’t a safe thing to do.”
Mr. Welch added that the plant operator, Tidewater Utilities, has given the town an “estimate of $26,000 where they can work it so it will be safe with an analytic machine that constantly tests it.”
“They have agreed to do the feasibility study first and to evaluate the safest way to put the fluoride on the system,” said Mr. Presley. “Delaware mandates that you have fluoride on your water so they are requiring that once we get the fluoride system on – and it has got to be on for a continuous 90-day period – then they will forgive the loans and we would dispense the board appeal.”
“Before they forgive this loan debt we’ve got to be in compliance for 90 days,” said Mr. Welch.
Funding for the study will come from a $30,000 state planning grant. It’s the second $30,000 grant of that type the town has received.
“We got the $30,000 one previously to look at Delaware Avenue and a couple other issues,” said Mr. Presley. “This one is going to be used to really look at the water plant issues and what it really needs.”
The Feb. 28 appeal hearing “is going to be put on hold until this is resolved,” Mr. Presley added.
In its appeal town officials are challenging town DNREC’s decision to authorize a permit without consultation/approval from the town. The crux of the issue is a change in state law in 2001 that removed any municipal government from having approval authority over non-potable wells.
Mr. Welch cast the “no’ vote on the motion to accept DNREC’s proposal.
“DNREC offered that up to us as compensation I guess for the loss of Mountaire revenue. I didn’t really think it was proper for them to be subsidizing Mountaire’s usage,” Mr. Welch said. “I’m fine with it. I just didn’t think it was a proper use. But I can understand the other council members saying that this half million-dollar forgiveness is an easy grab, now.”
Mr. Welch said fluoride is a huge issue. He said the majority consensus is town residents do not want fluoride in town water.
“I don’t want it neither, but I’m not afraid of it,” said Mr. Welch. “It seems like it is an outdated requirement of the State Revolving Fund; if we use that funding that we have got to put fluoride in the water. It has been that way since 2000; the first loan in 2000 we were supposed to have fluoride then. It was never implemented.”
“Everybody is concerned about it. I don’t think anybody believes it helps anybody out,” Mr. Welch added. “But it is a requirement of the funding.”
Loan forgiveness would be approximately $436,000. “We made a payment in December, so $436,000 is pretty close,” Mr. Presley said.
Mountaire settlement issue tabled
Town council on Feb. 14 tabled the vote on a possible monetary settlement with Mountaire regarding the town’s loss of water revenue.
There have been two proposals.
Mountaire initially offered $1,000 a month for 10-year period.
“We countered with a proposal for $3,000 a month, which would have been roughly half of what they were paying before for the town water. They declined that,” said Mr. Presley.
Mr. Presley said ouncil wants its solicitor, Chad Lingenfelder to have it put in writing “so we can see what all the stipulations are. Then, if it is a clean agreement with no stipulations, we’ll take a vote on it later. As long it is a pretty clean agreement I think we’ll probably vote for it but if it’s being littered up with stipulations we’re not going to go for that.”
Mr. Presley said the only offer on the table “right now is the $1,000 a month for 10 years. We have been fighting it for a year now. I guess it is going to be about the best deal we can get out of it.”