Kent County appoints new public works director: Golt set to tackle sewer system challenges

Diana Golt faces challenges as she takes over the Kent County public works director’s job. The county’s sewer system suffered several notable incidents last year and is currently struggling with aging infrastructure — most of which dates to the 1970s. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Kent County Levy Court commissioners unanimously agreed last Tuesday to appoint Diana Golt as the county’s new public works director.

Ms. Golt had been serving as acting director since last September when the former director, Andrew Jakubowitch, left to accepted a new position at Century Engineering Inc. in Dover.

Although Ms. Golt recently stepped into the position, the Delaware native is no stranger to the county’s sewer operation. She’s been with the department for about 19 years, even serving a brief stint as acting director once before back in the early 2000s.

Despite her experience, she takes the top public work’s seat at a fraught time. The county’s sewer system suffered several notable incidents last year and is currently struggling with aging infrastructure — most of which dates to the 1970s.

“We’re facing a lot of challenges in the coming years,” she said. “We’re going to put in motion the necessary plans to address the issues. There are always going to be issues that you can’t plan for, but we’re going to do our best to be prepared for anything.”

Although her approximately 85-person staffed department is funded to carry out its current duties, Ms. Golt says she briefed the county commissioners on the possibility of needing a “rate increase” in financial year 2020 to address multiple crucial upgrades.

“We’ve submitted our proposed budget for FY19,” she said. “How significant of a rate increase we’d need remains to be determined once we complete our project list. I say we ‘may’ need one because if more growth were to happen or a new large industry were to come into the county, there would be another revenue source to possibly offset the need for additional funding.”

According to Ms. Golt, the expenses for her department totaled just over $17.6 million during FY17. The current budget proposal for FY19 puts the anticipated expenses at $18.5 million.

In the coming months, Ms. Golt will have her department complete a “desktop analysis” of the county’s sewer infrastructure to identify both easy-to-fix “low hanging fruit” repairs and the biggest problem areas at risk of imminent failure. After that’s completed, they can manually examine these sections, plan the repairs, fund them and execute them, Ms. Golt said.

Urgent concerns

The two immediate issues the new director hopes to address are the U.S. 13 forcemain rehabilitation project and continuing work on one of the large basins at the county’s wastewater treatment plant near Milford.

The U.S. 13 project got a recent shove into urgency when Dover’s pump station 7 — which the county had been diverting a large quantity of its wastewater through — failed in mid February.

The city-owned pump station is located off the access road between Home Depot and the ACME store near the intersection of Leipsic Road and U.S. 13. All six of the station’s pumps were put out of commission and Dover’s pump works department has been operating it temporarily with several “bypass pumps.”

The county has been diverting wastewater through the station since early 2016 because their forcemain under U.S. 13 was consistently having issues and was considered “compromised.”

Upon hearing about the recent pump station issues, the county re-diverted their flow back down the U.S. 13 forcemain so the city could address their issue, but Ms. Golt hopes the county can soon return to the previous arrangement.

“When we heard about the failure, we sent out a portable pump to the station to help,” said Ms. Golt. “We also diverted flows from the bypass at pump station 7. The majority of it went back to the forcemain under Route 13.

“I would say that I have some concerns about it. Especially if we have any large rain events or anything to cause a surge in flow. One of the reasons we’d taken the flow off of Route 13 in the first place was to take pressure off the pipe. We’re not necessarily concerned about leaking, but we are concerned about the integrity of the pipe.”

The amount of wastewater the county had been diverting through the station was substantial, Dover spokeswoman Kay Sass said.

“It’s a massive amount of sewage that flows through that pump station,” she said. “The city sends through 25 million gallons of our own per month.

With the county’s additional wastewater there was 60 million gallons per month passing through — more than doubling our flow. Their wastewater is coming all the way up from Smyrna.”

The county, desiring to permanently return its wastewater flow back to the U.S. 13 forcemain, was in the planning stages of an extensive rehabilitation project, slated to begin work in the coming months. However, the wastewater will have to be diverted back to pump station 7 again anyway before that work begins.

“It’d be best to have this repaired as soon as possible,” said Ms. Golt.

As of Friday, the city was awaiting reports on its pump. Ms. Sass said once those reports are in, the city will have a better idea when they can take the flow back off the U.S. 13 pipe.

The basin project at the county’s plant, on the other hand, is almost complete.

Last July, the wastewater treatment plant started discharging “undertreated” wastewater due to operational issues. In an ordinary day, the plant expels about 10 million gallons of fully treated wastewater subject to several different standards concerning nutrient, bacteria and suspended solid limits.

One bacteria they screen for, enterococcus, was significantly elevated. The plant’s permit limit for enterococcus colonies is 33 per 100 mL, but that number rocketed up to hundreds at some times to thousands per mL for several weeks. DNREC had to put a shellfish harvest restriction in place and recommended not swimming in nearby streams.

The issue began with a mechanical malfunction in one of the county’s wastewater plant’s 10 million gallon aeration basins — large holding or treatment ponds which promote the biological oxidation of wastewater.

The plant has two of these basins, but the north basin was in the process of being repaired when the south basin’s lining developed a hole. According to the department, it’s not uncommon for liners to fail, but to have it happen while the other basin was being repaired — thus unable to pick up the slack — caused the issue to snowball.

Repair work was finished on the north basin and it was brought back on line and treatment levels returned to the plant’s standard shortly thereafter. The shellfish harvest restrictions were lifted since then as well.

Recently, the new liner was delivered and is currently being installed. Ms. Golt believes that both basins will be back up and running side-by-side shortly.

However, after that’s complete, she says they’ll begin budget for a full liner replacement of the north basin as well.

“They were both aging, so it’s time to start budgeting for the north one as well so we don’t run into another situation like we had in July,” she said.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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