Sewer Capacity Issues Halt Diakonia Expansion Project

Sewer Capacity Issues Halt Diakonia Expansion Project
Diakonia's main house on Old Bridge Road is pictured. The nonprofit has plans for a new facility on Stephen Decatur Highway that will expand its food pantry and housing programs. Photo by Bethany Hooper

SNOW HILL – A new facility for Diakonia is temporarily on hold as officials work through a sewer capacity issue.

Plans for a new facility that would allow Diakonia to expand its food pantry and housing programs have been in the works for some time, but the nonprofit’s supporters say they haven’t been able to start fundraising because sewer capacity issues remain unresolved. Though the Town of Ocean City has offered Diakonia sewer service, Worcester County officials say they won’t support the resort’s plan to provide sewer to just one West Ocean City entity.

“The reality is, we cannot consider moving forward with this project until we know the sewer capacity is in place,” said Reid Tingle, chair of Diakonia’s board. “We have grants from Senator Carozza and Delegate Hartman in place and are ready to move forward with construction plans once sewer capacity is in place. The construction drawings allow us to launch fundraising efforts and seek state and federal grants.”

In early November, the Town of Ocean City advised Worcester County staff that the town would provide Diakonia the sewer capacity it needed for the new facility with no strings attached.

“The Town of Ocean City has received a request from Diakonia to allow their proposed supportive housing project located at 9601 Stephen Decatur Highway to connect to the West Ocean City District sewer system despite not possessing the necessary EDUs. Diakonia has agreed to deed restrict the property so that it may only have the use and benefit of the treatment allocation while operating as a non-profit providing supportive housing consistent with the plan they have submitted to the County Planning Commission,” a Nov. 3 letter from City Manager Terry McGean to county staff reads. “Given the clear public benefit of this project to all the citizens of Worcester County including Ocean City, the Ocean City Mayor and City Council will agree to accept a flow not to exceed an average 10,000 gallons per day from the Diakonia Project as calculated by the Worcester County Environmental Programs Director using typical per EDU flow allocations for the West Ocean City Sanitary District.”

At a meeting this week, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he’d been advised by Diakonia leadership that a couple of the commissioners had met with nonprofit officials after Ocean City agreed to provide EDUs.

“They seem to feel that the commissioners want them to negotiate with the Town of Ocean City to allow more flow,” Mitrecic said. “I can’t even express how wrong that is to me. I’m hoping we can bring the people in from Diakonia at our next meeting and we can do something to get this EDU situation moving. I know there are no Mystic Harbour EDUs available but I know Ocean City has granted them flow. The fact that we are holding this hostage so to speak to negotiate more flow out of West Ocean City into Ocean City’s plant is just absolutely wrong.”

While no commissioners responded to Mitrecic’s concerns Tuesday, after the meeting Commissioner Eric Fiori said Mitrecic was misinformed. He acknowledged that there had been conversations with members of Diakonia’s board.

“We informed them that Ocean City granting capacity just for the Diakonia project would not be something we would support due to the fact that multiple businesses have been waiting for water and sewer allocation for an extended period of time,” he said. “There currently is a waiting list for Mystic EDU’s totaling around 100 EDU’s. We informed them we would entertain the idea of additional capacity if and only if businesses along the sewer line could be added on if they currently sat on the waiting list.  This is the meeting that’s going to occur the first part of the new year with multiple department heads.  It is unethical for one project to move forward as others sit and wait.  There is a waiting list for a reason. That list is granted allocation in the order in which it was requested. Unfair advantages have plagued our county for years.  We cannot be the judges of whose project is held in higher regard in the community. We must keep the playing field level.”

Tingle, however, said that as far as he is aware Diakonia is the only entity that has asked the town for sewer capacity. He added that if Diakonia gets sewer capacity from Ocean City, it frees up space on the EDU waiting list.

“We are third on the list I believe, so there are more moving up than being passed over,” he said. “I am confident that there is a resolution that will work for everyone. This project is the rare project that benefits everyone.  The expanded food pantry, long term affordable housing and veterans housing should be above political disputes.”

He also said that Diakonia representatives had scheduled two meetings with county officials but that the county had canceled both meetings. Nevertheless he’s hopeful the EDU issue can be worked out.

“The county commissioners have always been strong supporters of Diakonia and its mission,” Tingle said. “We look forward to meeting with them to answer any questions about our proposed connection to the Ocean City sewer district. The area is in dire need of affordable housing and additional capacity for our food pantry.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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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.