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Resident worries work on Rehoboth's ocean outfall could disrupt marine mammals

City of Rehoboth Beach

Work on a pipe that will discharge treated wastewater into the Atlantic is set to begin next month in Rehoboth, but one resident has some unresolved concerns about how construction could affect marine mammals.

Whales migrate through the area to warmer waters in fall.  Suzanne Thurman of the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute filed an appeal with the state in July as a resident, asking for work to stop on the city’s ocean outfall while whales migrate down the coast.

She has a hearing scheduled with the state’s Environmental Appeals Board for the middle of December.

“The whales will have completed their fall migration. Right whales are out there during the winter months, and we see them in January – February, so there would still be some slim chance of protecting them,” Thurman said.

It's a crucial time period for the whales, which are migrating to warmer waters to give birth and the fall and winter, Thurman said. In the spring through summer, they migrate north for feeding.

Thurman says she’s waiting to see if Rehoboth will follow the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law in place to prevent marine life from being hurt or hunted.

She wants to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to get a third party on site to monitor and report marine activity where construction is happening.

Rehoboth officials wouldn’t comment on the appeal, since it’s pending.

This is not the first time someone has filed an appeal with the state about the ocean outfall project. The Delaware chapter of the Surfrider Foundation filed an appeal in 2015 challenging former Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary David Small’s decision allowing Rehoboth to receive a loan for the outfall.

Thurman says she’s not only concerned about how construction will affect marine life, but how products that remain in the water once its treated could affect ocean health once the wastewater is dumped into the ocean.

“What we’re concerned about are the pharmaceuticals and endocrine inhibitors, and the heavy metals. Those are not addressed in the current plan and those are not filtered out during traditional wastewater treatment,” Thurman said.

Thurman says she wants to work with Rehoboth and Sussex County to see if they can find money for an additional treatment system.

The system, called electrocoagulation, would filter any remaining toxins from the water with an electric current. 

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