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NCC Council punts septic subdivision ban debate to 2020

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WILMINGTON ““ The New Castle County Council tabled its discussion of a permanent moratorium on the use of septic systems in subdivisions, delaying action on the legislation until next year when legislators may choose to delay longer.

Councilman Bill Bell, one of two representatives for southern New Castle County where the proposed bill will have an outsized impact, offered a floor amendment at the council’s Dec. 10 meeting seeking to extend the current temporary moratorium for another year.

His amendment also would establish a technical work group, chosen by the county’s Department of Land Use and the council, to meet monthly. That group would investigate the topic, evaluate alternatives to septic systems, and make a recommendation to the council as to how to proceed, Bell said.

“We feel the implementation of this (bill) is premature,” he said.“I believe all our farming community and farm families want is to be heard, have input and be a part of the process before something is implemented.”

Councilman John Cartier was among those who argued that the council should vote on the bill, saying he was in favor of discouraging the growth of large-scale septic use.

“We’d probably be back to the same wrangle a year from now,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s very difficult with the decisions we make to please everybody. We can only please some of the people some of the time.”

After significant debate over legal and legislative matters concerning Bell’s floor amendment, the council voted to table the measure and allow Bell more time to work up a revised version of his proposal.

The discussion comes as the county wrestles with how to control explosive growth in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area. Much of that building is in the county’s planned growth corridor, largely the area between Del. 896 and U.S. 13. In the past few years, however, county land use officials have expressed concerns about the amount of proposed development in areas known as the East Wing, roughly east of U.S. 13 and north of Pole Bridge Road, and the West Wing, roughly west of Del. 896 and north of Bunker Hill Road.

These areas lack county sanitary sewer service but are within planned service areas. Without a timeline for service, however, major subdivision proposals have been floated for communities that would rely upon septic tanks in these areas. Arguing that the increased use of septic would lead to sprawl and further risk pollution of state waterways, the New Castle County Department of Land Use successfully lobbied for a one-year moratorium last year on major land development plans that utilize septic systems to study the problem and suggest a solution.

With that moratorium set to expire on Feb. 29, land use officials are proposing that the prohibition be extended permanently. That plan has drawn a fierce debate from farmers, whose land value would be affected by lessening development rights, and environmentalists, who say the benefit to the watershed is most important.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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