There have been four fires in Cheswold's Old Town section since October 2012, including one fatality.
A long-desired project to bring fire protection to a neighborhood in Cheswold may come to fruition.
Chairing a meeting of town officials, legislators, DNREC representatives and executives from Tidewater Utilities, Rep. W. Charles “Trey” Paradee III, D-Dover West, said he was “energized” at the prospect of solving a problem that contributed to the death of a town resident.
Paradee hosted the Legislative Hall session last week to discuss the lack of fire hydrants in Cheswold’s Old Town section.
There have been four fires in Old Town since October 2012, including a June 2017 blaze at 179 Commerce St. where Lorraine Seaman, 53, was found dead; an autopsy showed she died of smoke inhalation.
The fire company had difficulty fighting each inferno because the closest public fire hydrant is at least 1,200 feet away. Battling fires in Old Town also requires the company to stretch hoses across a set of active railroad tracks.
A 2015 federal study set the cost for a series of four hydrants at $1.73 million. Tidewater Utilities Inc. president Gerard Esposito told the group his company could help, but regulatory issues first must be addressed. However well-intended, the project cannot be done in a way that existing Tidewater customers would have to pay for it, Esposito said. Ultimately, it would fall upon those living in Old Town to foot the bill.
Paradee and town officials, including Mayor Robert Sine and Town Administrator Theon “Sam” Callender, said few Old Town property owners are willing to pay the capital costs for such a project. They’re also not interested in footing the approximately $900 cost to hook into a service that would provide both drinking water and the ability to fight fires. Every property in the area uses a well, they said.
“What is allowed, however, is proving to the Public Service Commission we can extend a water system if it makes an improvement to the water system infrastructure,” Esposito said.
That could be done, he said, as Tidewater has the water franchise for newer areas of Cheswold.
Those at the meeting noted that instead of running potable water and hydrant lines into the several blocks that make up Old Town, it would be simpler and more cost effective to extend an existing water line that runs along Commerce Street, adjacent to the Nobles Pond subdivision, and ends about 20 feet from the town limits.
Lengthening that line and placing hydrants along it could bring fire protection to Old Town, though there still would be no hydrants along its streets.
That also would make it easier in the future to bring hydrants and drinking water to the area if private wells begin to fail.
It’s a bare-bones idea, but “it would be better than what you have now,” Esposito told the group.
The next steps is to get cost estimates for putting water mains into Old Town and for the line along Commerce Street, he added.
Although it’s still too early to discuss funding, Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, said he and Paradee would work to obtain state funding, if needed.
“You come up with the best system and leave it up to him and I to round up the cows,” he said.
Paradee also encouraged the group to look to the future -- 10 years or further down the line.
“You have to have infrastructure to attract people,” he said. “Our primary concern is saving lives and saving property, but there are other benefits.”
Paradee concluded the session by saying he’ll ask the group to come together again in several weeks to review its options.
“I think there is a path forward and we all should be happy about that,” he said.
Afterward, Paradee said he was encouraged by the meeting.
“I can’t say enough about the willingness of Tidewater to help us find a solution,” he said. “They’ve come to the table with ideas I never expected. This is a very workable project and I think everyone in the room is committed to getting this done.”
Sine also walked away feeling good about what he’d heard.
“It gives me some hope that something will get done,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”