- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Members of a state water advisory panel expressed concern Tuesday that a clean-water initiative proposed by Gov. Jack Markell has failed to win much support in the legislature.

Markell is proposing an annual fee on Delaware households and businesses to pay for a comprehensive plan to clean up the state’s waterways, many of which are so polluted that they are subject to fish-consumption advisories and are not safe for swimming.

The proposal calls for annual fees ranging from $45 to $85 on single-family homes. Owners of multi-family, commercial and industrial properties would pay annual fees on a sliding scale, capped at $25,000.

“Depending on who you talk to, the chances of it passing this year are not that great,” state Water Infrastructure Advisory Council chairman Joseph Corrado said Tuesday. “I’m disappointed that it’s been received the way it has.”

Corrado, who asked council members to contact lawmakers and urge them to support the plan, said there were two reasons for the apparent opposition.

“One, it’s an election year,” he noted. “Two, there’s people that feel it’s not needed.”

But Corrado said that with a decrease in federal funding to help states finance clean water projects, Delaware needs a dedicated source of money to meets it wastewater, surface water and drinking water infrastructure needs. Cash-strapped municipalities need grants, not loans, to help pay for local projects, he added.

“We definitely need more funding…. We’re running out of things we can do,” said Corrado, who plans to meet with other council members to formulate a strategy for trying to woo lawmakers.

“What we’re hearing in Legislative Hall is that there is not a need for this. Clearly, the message is not getting through,” said Brenna Goggin, environmental advocate for the Delaware Nature Society.

“Don’t throw in the towel,” Goggin urged council members. “I am still strongly optimistic that we can get something done this year.”

Markell administration officials say the proposed fees, which would be indexed to inflation and collected through county property taxes, would generate about $30 million annually. That money, combined with $30 million in annual funding currently available for existing clean water and drinking water loan programs, would in turn be used to leverage private capital and federal grants to generate $120 million in annual financing to speed the cleanup of Delaware’s rivers, lakes and bays.

The cleanup projects would be evaluated in public meetings by the Water Infrastructure Advisory Council, which would then make recommendations to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Money from the new “Clean Water for Delaware’s Future” fund, would finance projects in six broad categories: upgrades of wastewater and drinking water systems, improvements to storm water management infrastructure, removal of toxic pollutants and stream restoration, industrial facility upgrades, agricultural cost-share programs, and conservation and restoration of wetlands, forests and other natural areas.

Administration officials say more than $500 million will be needed over the next five years simply for wastewater facility upgrades in Delaware, including removal of failing septic systems. Another $150 million is needed to improve storm water management systems, along with $75 million to remove toxic pollutants and restore streams, and an equal amount for upgrading industrial sites to reduce water pollution, officials have said.

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