Bad news may get better for Frankford water customers

FRANKFORD — What is possibly bad news for many may get better for water customers in the town of Frankford.

Frankford town council Sept. 12 tabled the scheduled second reading of an ordinance that carries a substantial water rate hike amid discussion with Mountaire Farms and optimism that a change in state law governing well drilling within a municipality will be a change for the better.

“We are hopeful to have some good news for everybody hopefully in the next month,” said Frankford councilman Marty Pressley during the meeting.

At that meeting, council also tabled the second reading for an ordinance pertaining to drilling wells in Frankford’s town limits.

Town council in July approved a proposed 48-percent increase in the water rate, from $8.75 per 1,000 gallons to $12.68, pending required second reading.

That proposed hike targets a projected ballpark $65,000 to $75,000 shortfall in water revenue, according to Mr. Pressley. The bulk of that stems from losing Mountaire as a high-volume water user for its feed mill plant on Daisey Street.

“We have been working pretty much all angles on this for the last 60 to 90 days. So we are not just looking at one issue. We’re looking at five, six, seven issues. Hopefully, things will come to fruition and we can have some better news for you,” said Mr. Pressley.

Town officials met Sept. 15 in private with Mountaire representatives.

“Not much happened. They need to talk to their bosses,” Mr. Pressley said Sept. 16.

Mountaire remains connected to the town water system for the plant’s bathrooms, lavatories and fire suppression system.

In January of this year, Mountaire put into service its own well to meet production needs for feed mill operations.

Mountaire spokesman Mike Tirrell earlier this summer said the new well provided much-needed water flow, pressure and quality the town system had been unable to provide for approximately 24 months. Mountaire’s decision to drill its own well was out of pure necessity, said Mr. Tirrell.

Mountaire’s plant for years ranked as the town’s largest water user. That changed somewhat this year with Mountaire’s new well, which the town has challenged with a formal appeal to the Delaware Environment Appeals Board.

The town’s appeal challenges the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control’s decision to issue a permit to Mountaire Farms for a non-potable well.

Also factoring in this scenario is a state law passed in 2001 that removed the requirement that municipal governments approve non-potable well-drilling permits.

Mr. Pressley said there is growing consensus, including state lawmakers Sen. Gerald Hocker and Rep. Rich Collins, that the law passed in 2001 was intended to address one specific issue and not all municipalities in general.

“But the way the law is written it basically affects every town. It is just now coming to light because our situation in Frankford,” Mr. Pressley.

That law, and the town’s potential water rate plight, was made public in efforts to alert other municipalities and elected officials of possible repercussions.

“We are hopeful that over the next couple of months that some of the things we have been working on, negotiations with Mountaire, engaging the other municipalities, getting the legislature to change the law and the legal appeals, will start to show some results,” said Mr. Pressley. “At this point there is enough optimism in those to at least delay the water rate increases until we run out of other options.”

Mr. Pressley noted that Mountaire has recently been quoted in the media stating that they want to sit down and see if we can work this out.

“There has been quite a bit going on behind the scenes to resolve this over the last couple of months and we hope to be able to avoid the massive increase in water rates that we feel would be incredibly destructive to the town,” said Mr. Pressley. “The big thing is we are talking with Mountaire. I think they are as anxious to get this completed as we are. I don’t think that they intentionally want to hurt the town of Frankford.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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