County To Explore Taking Over Ocean Downs Wells

County To Explore Taking Over Ocean Downs Wells
Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL– Worcester County officials this week approved plans to work with Ocean Downs regarding water and sewer infrastructure.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 6-1 to approve a staff request to begin negotiations with Ocean Downs Casino regarding water wells at the facility. Worcester County could accept the wells into the Riddle Farm service area, providing the county with more capacity.

“Financially it’s a pretty good deal. What we’re asking for is permission to start those negotiations.,” said Dallas Baker, the county’s director of public works.

Baker told the commissioners this week that Ocean Downs approached the county about taking over the facility’s water wells. The casino property has three permitted wells, one that is used for irrigation and two that are for domestic use.

“They have some interest in expanding their facility and the requirements from the state for additional licensing, reporting, for managing those is really not something they want to get into,” Baker said. “They are a casino, they’re not a utility, so they asked us if we’d be interested. We took a look at the numbers and quite frankly we are interested.”

While the county would have to spend about $1 million developing the wells into municipal supply wells, the county would then have access to an additional 1,200 EDUs (equivalent dwelling units) of water capacity. Ocean Downs has plans for 225 EDUs, which they’d ask the county to waive the cost for, as they provided the wells, but then the county could sell any leftover EDUs. That could potentially generate $6 million in revenue.

Baker said that if the county took over the wells, the Ocean Downs system would be connected to the Riddle Farm system because it has the closest water tower.

“By doing that, sales of these water EDUs could go toward paying off the debt for Riddle Farm,” he said.

According to Baker the service area’s current debt is $185,000. Future debt, however, includes the $600,000 to $700,000 cost of painting the Riddle Farm water tower. There’s also currently no funding identified for connecting the Riddle Farm area to the Mystic Harbour Sanitary Service Area. Thanks to grant funding, that connection is currently being designed but funding for the actual construction of the connection has not been allocated. That project is expected to cost close to $2 million.

Baker said the roughly $6.1 million that EDU sales would generate could cover the cost of the existing Riddle Farm debt, the cost of painting the water tower and the cost of the connection to Mystic Harbour Sanitary Service Area.

“All of those improvements could be done with no impact to the existing ratepayers,” Baker said. “That’s a lot of improvements the ratepayers wouldn’t have to pay for by accepting those wells and selling those EDUs. We just feel like it’s a very big win for the county.”

He added that as part of an agreement with the county, Ocean Downs was also willing to provide the county with an easement.

“Ocean Downs is willing to grant us an easement across their property for a force main bypass of the Riddle Wastewater Plant,” Baker said. “Right now as you all know we’re pumping and hauling from that… if we have this bypass in place we’re not going to need to pump and haul again.”

He added that if the force main was built on the Ocean Downs property, it would cost the county about $1.5 million. If an easement is not granted, construction of the force main is expected to cost $3-4 million.

He said that essentially, if the county spent the $1 million to develop the Ocean Downs wells, the county could get about $9 million in savings and improvements.

“We’d like your permission to pursue it and start the legal agreements and negotiations,” Baker said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic asked if the wells met the county’s depth requirements. Baker said they did and actually produced water with less iron than the county’s wells and therefore would require less treatment.

“The cost for us to run these wells is less,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder asked if the height of the Riddle Farm water tower would still need to be adjusted if the county took over the casino wells. Baker said the county was exploring different ways to address the water tower issue.

“We’re looking at booster pumps in lieu of lowering the tower,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that Ocean Downs would be getting free EDUs out of the deal.

“We’re spending $1 million to upgrade and we’re giving them a waiver of the same amount of money,” he said. “They’re asking to do this, not us.”

Baker said the county would be getting something out of the agreement.

“They have the wells to exchange for that,” Baker said. “This is more of an exchange. They have the wells, they have the water appropriations permits, we have the ability to run it. There is a value in those wells and in that water appropriation permit that they’re saying they’re going to give us and we’re saying we’re going to not charge you for those EDUs.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.