Bethany Beach looks at replacing trolleys with trams

Bethany Beach could move in the near future to switch from its signature trolley-style bus for in-town public transportation to instead using a jeep pulling a tram.

Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet at the council’s Nov. 18 meeting informed the council that the idea was under consideration as the Town has struggled to keep its three full-sized motorized trolleys running each summer, with any breakdowns causing two to three days of downtime and leaving the system short on trolleys.

Instead, Graviet said, they were looking at the idea of purchasing a jeep and a tram, which would both be styled and painted to match the existing trolleys.

In the event of mechanical problems, “It would be simpler to replace the pull vehicle than the issue we now have with the trolley,” he explained.

The change to the jeep-tram combination would also be a less-expensive proposition than purchasing a new trolley, saving the Town roughly $50,000 off the $150,000 expense of a trolley. And with the problem of the trolleys breaking down, Graviet said, the Town may need four trolleys just to keep two running while the service is provided.

Graviet told the council some modifications would need to be made to a standard tram, in order to better ensure passengers remain on the vehicle, because the standard trams have open sides. He said the use of the tram would be permitted by the State, and it would be permitted by the Town’s insurance company, provided such modifications were made.

Asked whether the tram would be similar to that used in nearby Dewey Beach, Graviet said he was aware that the Jolly Trolley had flipped over on Route 1 in an incident on Oct. 1 that injured about a dozen wedding guests who were aboard the trolley at that time. He said he believed that tram is a “one-off” type of vehicle with a high center of gravity, as opposed to the trams that would be considered for Bethany.

“These trams are just inches off highway,” he noted of their comparatively low center of gravity.

The council did not vote on the proposed change during the Nov. 18 meeting but would have to approve an expenditure as large as the cost of either a new trolley or the jeep-tram combination.

Beach replenishment could see local ACTion

Graviet also reported to the council on Nov. 18 that he was continuing to receive one or two calls each week regarding the condition of the town’s beach, with the citizens and residents contacting him suggesting that he ask DNREC officials to push accumulated sand back up on the beach to help restore the dune. (Both the dune and the beach lost considerable sand in recent storms.)

Graviet said the Town has maintained an ongoing dialogue with DNREC on the issue and that, at present, DNREC’s opinion remained that the additional sand accumulation on the beach helps take energy off waves during a storm, before they hit the dune, and that if they were to use that additional height to instead replenish the dune, the sand left on the beach would leave more quickly, leaving the dune vulnerable to further damage.

“When it is their opinion there is enough sand on the beach to leave the height but still have sand to restore the dune, they will do that,” he said DNREC officials had told him.

Town officials are hoping that the beach will get a full replenishment in 2017, when it has been scheduled for the maintenance work under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for the engineered beach, which was reconstructed to that design in 2007. While that work is scheduled, funding for it has not yet been allocated and is never guaranteed. As time has passed, getting such projects funded has become more and more difficult.

Mayor Jack Gordon reported on Nov. 18 that he and Councilman Joseph Healy Jr. had recently attended a meeting in South Bethany, along with officials from Fenwick Island and Dewey Beach, and DNREC’s Tony Pratt, on the issue of beach replenishment and related funding.

Gordon said the meeting focused on securing funding for that 2017 replenishment, which would also include South Bethany and likely Fenwick Island as well, while Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach were scheduled for such work in 2016.

He said a letter from South Bethany and Bethany officials to the Corps, supporting the necessity for replenishment — with both economic and safety issues as arguments — had been written and would be sent out that day. Copies of the letter were also to be sent to the state’s congressional delegation, the governor and Gov.-elect John Carney, who has been serving as the state’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gordon said the group had also agreed that they should reactivate the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT), with representatives from the coastal municipalities from Lewes to Fenwick, which has been inactive for a number of years.

The group’s initial focus would be on beach replenishment, he said, but could expand to greater issues, such as sea-level rise, and could in the long run coordinate efforts with the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association, of which Pratt is president.

Gordon said they look at replenishment as a “total state effort, wherein tourism and money supplied by coastal towns here is extremely important to the state of Delaware.”

“Tony reiterated that the solution to the problem is regional,” Healy said of Pratt, adding that Pratt is very much on board for the effort.

Gordon said he found it encouraging that Carney seemed to already be well aware of the problems involved and could be expected to be supportive.

“When we’ve gone up to Congress, he was very aware of the situation, and it’s very encouraging now that he’s to become governor,” Healy added. “He is a new governor, but not new to this subject.”

Healy noted U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) as “a stalwart” on the issue and said Pratt liked U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, too.

“Our delegation has been terrific in dealing with this issue,” he added, saying that when other municipal groups met with their congressional delegations conferences, they often came back with their heads hanging low, but the Delaware group had always found support from their representatives in Congress.

Relocation of Dinker Cottage on the schedule

Also on Nov. 18, the town council unanimously approved a $45,700 contract with East Coast Structural Movers to relocate the historic Dinker Cottage to its new location on Maryland Avenue Extended for use as a museum. Graviet noted that, as the preeminent and essentially only company to do that kind of work in the area, East Coast had been a sole-source contractor for the work and has already done extensive work on other relocations from and within Bethany.

The prior estimate of the cost of the move had been $46,300, Graviet noted, so the Town will spend a little less to do the move now that the time has nearly arrived for it to be done. The cost includes moving the cottage, restoration of the foundation with cut block and something Graviet said the Town hadn’t anticipated but that its engineer had recommended: a new central support beam for the structure.

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman asked whether the planned funding of some of the costs of the project with monies pledged by the Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee was still to happen. Graviet said $46,300 had already been transferred from the CHAC account to the Dinker project account to cover the expense, under the previous estimate.

Resident Joan Gordon asked Graviet when the move could be expected to happen. He said it would take place as soon as the new sewer line is installed on the property. The equipment for that project is out and the preliminary work already done, but the contractor hadn’t been on the site for more than a week, he noted.

In other action at the Nov. 18 council meeting:

• Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer reported that Mike Boswell had been named the new chairman of the Planning Commission at the group’s October meeting, with John Gaughan named vice-chair. He said the commission is beginning work on the five-year update of the Town’s comprehensive plan, which is due to the State in the late spring or early summer. He said a number of public hearings will be held during the development of the update.

• The Planning Commission will now officially take over the responsibilities and authorities of the Town’s Zoning Commission, which was decommissioned by the council last month. Both bodies are mandated by the state, but the Zoning Commission had, Killmer said, fulfilled its mission many years ago and had not met “for longer than anyone can remember.”

Zoning-related issues have long been dealt with by the Planning Commission, which Killmer said was more attuned to deal with such issues, and had itself created several new zoning districts for the town, as well as updating the existing ones. The council unanimously approved the change.

• Councilman Jerry Morris was named the new secretary/treasurer for the council, taking over from Councilman Chuck Peterson, who had to resign from the office after moving to a home outside town limits. As a property owner, he can remain on the council, but council leadership positions can only be held by a town resident. Gordon thanked Peterson for his years of service in the role.

The council voted 5-2 to have Morris replace Peterson, with Killmer and Healy supporting Healy for the role.

Morris will also replace Peterson as the chairman of the Budget & Finance Committee, on a unanimous vote of the council, and Peterson will no longer serve on that committee, as only two council members are permitted to serve on it at the same time, and Healy is already that second member.

In his final report from the committee, Peterson said they had met on Nov. 1 and reviewed the first half of the current fiscal year. “We couldn’t be more on target if we tried,” he said. “It’s amazing how close the estimates were to the reality.” They also did a preliminary look at the 2018 fiscal year, and he said they expected no major changes.

• The council unanimously approved guidelines for the Town’s committees and its own protocol and procedure manual, having made some changes during the annual review of the documents at their workshop on Nov. 14.

• Graviet reported that construction of the new mineral pond for the Town’s water plant was awaiting construction of a custom liner for the pond.

• The council unanimously agreed to cancel its December meeting, which has generally been the case in recent years.