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Donovan Smith manufactured home park residents await sewer connection months after Lewes annexation

Portions of the Donovan Smith manufactured home park where wastewater appeared aboveground were cordoned off last year.
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Portions of the Donovan Smith manufactured home park where wastewater appeared aboveground were cordoned off last year.

Nearly half a year after the town of Lewes annexed the Donovan Smith manufactured home park, septic system failures that prompted the annexation remain unresolved.

Residents began advocating for Lewes to annex the park in 2017, arguing that connecting it to the town’s municipal sewer system could resolve years of maintenance problems, including raw sewage leaks and unreliable drinking water.

Last December, DNREC and the Department of Health and Social Services authorized two loans totaling more than $5 million to connect the park to Lewes’ sewer and water systems.

Donovan Smith Homeowners’ Association President Sam Saunders says he expected the project to be completed shortly after Lewes’ city council voted to annex the park in April.

But Board of Works General Manager Austin Calaman says a series of unexpected administrative delays slowed their plans to put the project out for a bid; he expects the bidding process to begin this fall.

Meanwhile, Saunders says the park’s owner requested residents pay a higher lot rent – a request Saunders says may be a test case for a newly passed state law requiring manufactured home park owners to address public health concerns like septic system failures before increasing rents.

“People are getting notices because they haven’t paid the lot rent increase," he said. "And I think that’s getting ready to be a battle to test the new bill.”

According to a memorandum of understanding signed by the park’s owner, residents will not be required to pay additional rent to cover the cost of new sewer and water connections.

Delaware Community Legal Aid Society Advocacy Director John Whitelaw says the delays point to how far Delaware has to go to address widespread public health crises at manufactured home parks across the state.

"The problem for many other communities who have aging septic tanks, broken septic tanks and leaks that threaten the health and safety of residents is that for many of these communities, there isn’t an option to connect to a public system," he said.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.