Untreated wastewater continues to flow at Donovan Smith Manufactured Home Community in Lewes, leading the the state to issue the property owner another notice of violation. But residents who say they’ve been dealing with the problem for years and complaining to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for just as long are turning to others for help.
Delaware Community Legal Aid Society Inc., more commonly known as CLASI, confirmed it is working with a group of Donovan Smith residents to “explore legal options.”
“It’s a terrible situation that’s been allowed to develop, and something has to be done,” said CLASI’s Colton Fleu.
Donovan-Smith MHP and Kenneth Burnham of Pittsville, New York, are named in DNREC’s notices of violation. Burnham had not responded by Wednesday to repeat calls and emails.
What the state is doing
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued Donovan-Smith MHP LLC and Burnham a notice of violation July 8, citing untreated wastewater surfacing from the park’s main septic system.
That notice required the property owner to:
- Pump septic systems within five days and at least every three days thereafter.
- Submit pumping records within 14 days and monthly thereafter.
- Within 30 days, submit a detailed plan to connect to the Lewes sewer system.
According to the new notice of violation, issued Sept. 13, the only documented attempt to meet those requirements was the submission of records of pump-outs of the main septic system that occurred between July 26 and 31. A plan was submitted Sept. 2, but the notice said it was incomplete.
The problems with the main septic system are compounded by problems with up to eight other septic systems throughout the park, many of which have no permits despite the department’s awareness of their existence, according to the notice.
DNREC performed a compliance inspection Aug. 19 to document the conditions of those systems. At that time or while responding to complaints received after the inspection, multiple systems were discovered with “ponding wastewater, collapsed wastewater tanks, broken system components and evidence of past wastewater discharges.”
One collapsed tank was at the residence of Rem Miller, which The News Journal/DelawareOnline reported July 15. Miller said his tank collapsed two years ago.
The department added nine more requirements in the September notice.
- A mapping of all septic systems in the park, with their conditions and pumping schedules noted, within two weeks.
- The inspection of each system by a licensed inspector, within 30 days.
- Repairs to two particular systems, including Miller’s, within 60 days.
- Monthly written updates to residents of Donovan Smith, the first of which must occur within 15 days.
Neither notice levied fines against the park.
“The tightrope we must walk”
Burnham had been unable to obtain agreements from his bank to allow state loans to fund Donovan Smith’s connection to the Lewes sewer system, DNREC spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie said in August, but the department announced Tuesday he has obtained “conditional approval.”
When asked if the approval means construction to connect Donovan Smith to the Lewes sewer system can begin, Lavoie said, “It allows the utility easements and restrictions on the state funding being used … to be binding on subsequent property owners. That’s important … because it ensures that this investment benefits the residents and not the current or any future property owner.”
The next steps “will involve finalizing a memorandum of understanding, a pre-annexation agreement, bidding projects (by Lewes BPW), loan closing, etc.,” she said.
The state financing comes from the Clean Water Initiative, for which Donovan Smith is the pilot project.
“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 Sept. 14 news release. “We are working to make a difference in the lives of these residents and in the environment, one step at a time.”
CLASI’s Fleu said they are “encouraged” by the conditional approval and are awaiting more details before taking further action.