Fenwick Approves County Running Smoke Tests To Address ‘Gaseous Smells’

FENWICK ISLAND – Officials with the Town of Fenwick Island have unanimously agreed to let Sussex County’s Engineering Department address a lingering gaseous odor along Route 1 by conducting a smoke test in the resort’s sewage lines sometime in March.

In a meeting of the Town Council last week, Town Manager Terry Tieman said the request was a response to complaints the town was receiving from business owners and residents along Fenwick Island’s commercial zone.

“We have a possible issue there and the county is recommending that one way to resolve that is to do smoke testing in the areas we have the issue,” she told the council.

A smoke test will allow county officials to pump a harmless form of smoke into the town’s sewage lines and pinpoint cracks in the system where odor can escape and water can enter, according to Tieman.

If the sewer lines are functioning properly, smoke will rise through manhole lids and house vents located on the roof. If not, smoke will escape from cracks in the line.

Rodney Marvel, assistant director for the Department of Environmental Services – the department tasked with operating and maintaining the county’s water and wastewater facilities, told the council that workers will conduct the smoke test during the morning hours, to respect the operation of restaurants and businesses within the affected area.

“We are flexible,” he said. “I would just prefer to do it on a nice day because when it’s raining the smoke doesn’t want to rise as much.”

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean praised the idea, but questioned if the sewage company would be responsible for making the needed repairs.

Tieman explained that it would depend on whose property the damaged pipe resided.

“If it’s on their side of the cleanup, yes,” she said. “If it’s on the property owner’s side of the cleanup, it’s going to be the property owner’s responsibility.”

One resident in the audience addressed concerns about property owners footing the bill and asked if the town could even force them to fix the needed repairs.

Mayor Eugene Langan said the problem must be addressed and added that the town’s plumbing code mentioned the responsibilities of the property owner.

“I can’t remember the exact wording in our standards, but we have a responsibility for the cleanout,” he said. “But there is wording in there that says your plumbing has to be up to code.”

Tieman piggybacked off Langan by adding that property owners would want to fix any repairs.

“I think it’s really in the best interest of the property owner to fix it, and they want to,” she said. “What we’ve seen is people trying to fix it and not knowing what the cause is. So I think we have a lot of people who are more than willing to fix the problem if they know what to fix. Eventually, if you let the pipes go it could be a more costly repair. So the sooner they can figure out the situation, the better.”

Tieman said county engineers have already jetted the lines, which uncovered six or seven missing sewer caps.

“If sewer caps are off, that will cause gaseous smells too,” she said. “So we have already remedied that, but we want to make sure before the season begins that we’ve addressed the rest of it.”

Marvel said the department will be meeting with town officials to map out problem areas, contact affected residents and business owners, and notify surrounding fire departments before conducting the smoke test on an undetermined day in March.

“I think we are going to hit the areas the complaints are coming from,” Marvel said. “Now if we find stuff, then we’ll have to come back later and hit the other areas.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.