Seaford continues to seek power plant funds

By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford is applying for a $35,000 state grant, to help pay for a continuing investigation of pollutants at the city's former power plant. Tuesday night, the city council approved applying for the grant from the Delaware Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act.

Assistant city manager Charles Anderson told the council that it's not certain that the city will receive the money. Applications from only three organizations will be approved, "but we want to be in the competition," he said.

In August, the city hired BrightFields Inc., a Wilmington-based company, to oversee the cleanup of the power plant. An environmental assessment by the state found petroleum hydrocarbons and semi-volatile organic compounds at the plant site.

These contaminants "are what you would expect to find at a power plant," city manager Dolores Slatcher told the city council at the time.

The city agreed to pay BrightFields Inc. $20,400 to oversee the cleanup. If the city receives the state grant, it will pay for "additional investigative work," Anderson said.

BrightFields is the same company that oversaw cleanup of the riverfront in Wilmington.

An appraisal of the power plant site, commissioned by the city last year and performed by the Carmean Appraisal Group, found that the 1.893 riverfront acres on which the plant currently sits are worth $353,100.

That amount assumed that the lot is cleared and that it does not have any environmental contamination that needs to be cleaned up. "It is valued as a site ready to develop," the appraisal said.

The brick power plant, which sits on the Nanticoke River near the Blades Causeway drawbridge, was built in 1939 to generate power for the city. But it has not done that since the mid 1970s, when the city started buying all of its power from Delmarva Power and Light.

The 7-megawatt plant was used for a time to generate power to sell back to Delmarva Power and then on the general electric grid. That ended in late 2005 when the price of diesel went so high that the plant couldn't make a profit on what it generated.

In 2007, the state put in place new air pollution regulations that pretty much spelled the end of the plant. At that time, the plant had five working generators, built in 1958, 1954, 1953, 1939 and 1962.

The city started the decommissioning process in 2012, when it sold the plant's two 29,000-gallon fuel tanks for $2,000 each.

In February 2013, the city hired NCM Demolition and Remediation in Salisbury to remove all of the plant's equipment. For payment, NCM kept most of the equipment, metal and cable that its workers removed. The one exclusion was the plant's medium-voltage switchgear, which the city sold in April 2013 for $30,000.

Power outages expected Anderson also told the council that the date of one of two days during which Seaford will see city-wide power outages has been changed.

Upcoming work on electrical lines will cause outages on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. The second outage was originally set for Oct. 1. Delmarva Power is heading the upgrade to the transmission line over which the city receives all of its power. Anderson cautioned that the dates are still subject to change. The work can't be completed in rain or high wind, he said. Each outage will last approximately four hours, if the work moves along as planned. The city is not saying at what time work will start; "we don't want to publicize when all of the alarms throughout the city won't be working," Anderson said Wednesday morning. The outages could be any time in the 24-hour period. The city has given more specific information to facilities, including Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, that rely on electricity to operate. It has also talked with doctor's offices, dialysis centers and residents who are on oxygen, to help them plan for the outages. During the council's public comment session, city resident Dan Cannon asked for more specifics on the outages. "This is a matter of public safety," he said. "People have to have an idea of when the power will be off, so they can plan. I don't know what the difficulty is." On Wednesday morning, Anderson said that he feels that the city has been as forthcoming as possible. "This will be difficult, there's no doubt about it," he added. "But maybe going through this will make us all more prepared for an emergency." Anderson said that anyone who has concerns about the power outages can call city hall, 302-629-9173, for guidance.

Greenhouse approved The Seaford School District has gotten city approval to build another greenhouse near the high school. The 2,160 square foot facility will be built between an existing greenhouse and the school. Roy Whitaker, chief of building and grounds for the school district, told the city council that growth of the high school's agriculture program makes the second greenhouse necessary. The district originally considered building a larger building, but acted upon the advice of group brought together by the district to investigate the proper size. The new greenhouse will be similar in design to the existing one, which is 1,440 square feet. Two parking spaces near the high school will be eliminated to make way for the building. City building official Josh Littleton told the council that the existing 6-foot fence around the greenhouse will be expanded to surround both buildings. Construction of the greenhouse is one of about 40 projects that the district is able to do with money left over in the high school renovation project fund. In May 2011, voters approved a $36.5 million renovation and expansion of the high school. The state paid 75 percent of the cost of the project, or $27 million, leaving about $9.1 million to be paid by local taxpayers. Because bids came in lower than predicted, the district has been able to do about $5 million in renovations and construction that was not planned as part of the original project. All of the original school's science classrooms have been renovated. Energy-efficient LED lighting has been installed throughout the high school, bathrooms have been renovated to make them accessible to the handicapped and the auditorium has been completely redone, with new flooring and new, staggered seats. The district has also remodeled the lobby outside the auditorium and updated the cafeteria.

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