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Utility got its permits but lost its customers

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by Kathy Canavan

A soybean field now grows on the spot near Angola where Tidewater Utilities’ wastewater treatment plant was supposed to rise.

Company president Jerry Esposito said all his potential customers hooked up to other systems during the four years he sought coastal zone permits.

“There is nobody who wants to repeal the Coastal Zone Act, but the protections that are in there are redundant now that there are federal laws, and all the regulations do is stop redevelopment of the land,” said Esposito, who, ironically, is a former DNREC deputy director.

“This is about making the protections that were originated by Gov. [Russell] Peterson work in the 21st Century,” Esposito said. ”Now, it’s almost like if you issue a permit you’re anti-environment. The coastal zone has all these brownfields that could be cleaned up. If industry came in and did that, there would actually be an improvement in the environment.”

Esposito, who knows the regulatory process better than most businessmen because he worked for DNREC, said state and federal permits cost Tidewater nearly $2 million.  “Because we don’t have a plant, we don’t have any revenues to recoup that cost.”

Tidewater has all the permits it needs now — but no market

“Timing is everything with developers. We had upward of 2,500 homes ready to connect if we built the plant,” Esposito said. “Because of the lengthy process we lost the opportunity to get customers. The window closed,” he said. “If we were in business right now, we would have eliminated hundreds, if not thousands, of septic systems.”

He said his company it still paying rent on the soybean field but there are no plans to build.  “The train has left the station, so to speak,” he said.

What he’s learned:  “The system is just fraught with opportunities for what could be considered unreasonable appeals. The one thing we’ve learned about the process is it is an undefined process.”

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