Proposed sewer, water districts face opposition from Winding Creek Village residents

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GEORGETOWN — A referendum on proposed sewer and water districts encompassing communities on Long Neck is scheduled for early July – several months after it was postponed following public outcry.

Confusion, conflicting information and concerns voiced by residents of Winding Creek Village at public hearing and public meeting venues precipitated Sussex County’s postponement decision in February.

“We are delaying the referendum until a future date to have a second meeting to do a better job of communicating information that needs to be communicated,” Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson announced at a Feb. 24 public meeting held at the Long Neck CHEER Center. “We hear you loud and clear. I don’t want you, the residents to feel like this is being jammed down your throats. That is absolutely not the intent.”

Sussex County Director of Utility Planning John J. Ashman presented a revised timeframe schedule at the April 5 county council meeting.

Hot topics are a proposed Herring Creek Sanitary Sewer District that would include the Winding Creek Village, Herring Creek Estates and Pinewater Farm residential communities and a Winding Creek Village Water District.

Posting for a second public meeting will be the week of April 18 with the meeting set for May 7 at the Beacon Middle School on John J. Williams Highway starting at 10 a.m.

Following an update to council May 10, county council is scheduled to address boundary resolutions June 7. The referendum is scheduled for July 9.

Letters notifying the property owners/residents will be mailed, the meeting will be advertised locally and notifications posted online and in the community, Mr. Ashman said.

According to Mr. Ashman as of the April 5 meeting, the county had received 171 affidavits from the property owners/residents in Winding Creek Village requesting that “we cancel the referendum for the proposed water district.”

“We are currently analyzing them to their validity and the percentage of eligible voters they may represent prior to making our recommendation,” Mr. Ashman said.

The number of affidavits stood at 194, Winding Creek Village resident Jeanette Cosgrove stated at the April 19 county council meeting.

At public meetings in February and March, a number of Winding Creek Village residents voiced opposition to the sewer and water district proposals.

“It seems the boundaries were drawn to include Winding Creek Village after the county received a letter from our board back in May of 2012,” said Winding Creek Village resident Jean Ward. “The board informed the county that they had voted unanimously to request the council initiate the process for sanitary sewer and water district. No polling of the Winding Creek homeowners had been done. The council could only assume that that had taken place. It had not. The Winding Creek Village Association had no voice.”

“We know that the community did not have a chance to be surveyed in the initial poll by the Sussex County Engineering Department and to vote before the process was initiated,” said Winding Creek Village resident Jeanette Cosgrove. “Essentially the board of Winding Creek Village took us down this path to a referendum on sewer and water districts.”

On the flip side, Winding Creek Village resident Steve Zee spoke in support of the sewer district at the March 1 meeting.

“I have been in the county for 27 years. I have been looking forward to this day,” said Mr. Zee. “I’ve seen sewer come into Long Neck, into Angola and Oak Orchard but never into Winding Creek Village. I feel it is important for our environment and the value of our homes that we move forward with the process. I clearly understood the process that the you (the county) presented, that engineering presented actually in their letter. It’s been over four years in the making.”

Ms. Cosgrove disputed costs presented by the county.

“We have calculated out and we would be paying far greater for the sewer system than the replacement cost of a septic system with the newest technology,” said Ms. Cosgrove.

New Jersey native Marie Robles and her husband moved into Winding Creek Village five years ago. An article promoting the idea of a sewer district was in the May 2012 village newsletter, she said.

“By October 2012 at our annual meeting our board had us already committed. We were never polled by the board. We were never asked how this would impact us financially. Had we known that the board of Winding Creek was already researching the possibility of creating a sewer district in 2010 we would not have purchased that home in Winding Creek. We had no voice or choice,” said Ms. Robles. “And I don’t look forward to a perpetual water bill when water from my well is clean, clear and free.”

Voter eligibility has been a focus of concern.

“We stated that it was state law and we were unable to change the code,” said Mr. Ashman. “A primary concern seemed to focus on the eligibility of property owners as compared to eligible residents.”

The initial step in establishing the district requires county council approval of the district boundary.

“We were denied the ability to submit affidavits to show no interest in the sewer district,” added Ms. Cosgrove. “So I respectfully request a change in the sewer district boundary and the ability for Winding Creek Village to opt out of the sewer district.”

Cathie Barnes, a resident of Winding Creek Village for 17 years, said if the intent is to clean up the inland bays the county is going down the wrong path. Ms. Barnes stated that gray water and fertilizer runoff from Baywood golf course has killed Guinea Creek, which borders Winding Creek Village. She also noted that a proposed large family development is not included in the sewer district plans.

“You are going after the wrong people. We’re not a golf course. We’re not 600 houses. We are just a 250-home development,” said Ms. Barnes. “I am a widow. I have lived there 17 years. When we moved to Winding Creek Village Guinea Creek was a beautiful creek. There were fish. There were shellfish. Baywood was just being built. Fast forward to now. You can’t swim in Guinea Creek. We are advised that if you go and try to collect any of the shellfish, eat very few of them because it is so polluted.”

Ms. Vitsorek said the proposed sewer and water project would be a life-changing event.

“I live on a social security check, a very modest savings and a tight budget. My mother lived to be 94 and if I am blessed with her longevity, my question is: For how long will I be able to support myself and not become a burden to my only son?” said Ms. Vitsorek. “This unexpected, unwanted, unplanned for addition to my cost of living would be substantial. Many of my friends and neighbors are single or widowed and there are a number of retired folks as well in the same situation living on that fixed income. So when it comes time for you to vote on this matter I ask you from the bottom of my heart to please vote from yours.”

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

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