Residents question South Bethany’s acquisition of boat, Humvee

Got a spare recycling bin? Motorboat? Military-grade vehicle?

Through an overstock program, police departments are able to get free equipment that ranges from mundane to massive. But the Law Enforcement Liquidation Program moves so quickly that citizens said this week that they wanted more information on South Bethany’s recent acquisitions from the program.

The South Bethany Police Department recently acquired a Humvee, which carries a militaristic air when in use. But don’t think a SWAT team is hitting the streets, said Sgt. Lee Davis at the Oct. 9 town council meeting. The SBPD has desperately needed this type of vehicle in the past.

“We’ve had several occasions that we had storms … we could not get to people who needed help,” Davis said. “We had no vehicles that could get back in the bay side when it’s underwater.”

The Delaware Army National Guard isn’t deployed until the governor activates them. But during Hurricane Sandy, South Bethany was underwater long before the National Guard was allowed to hit the streets.

“We want to try to be as self-sufficient as we can,” Davis said. “We needed it then, and we didn’t have it.”

Some communities are getting rid of their Humvees, many of which were purchased in a flurry after Hurricane Sandy, and where the costs has been found to outweigh the benefits. So South Bethany had an opportunity to try the Humvee on for size.

The discussion of the program began when resident Mike Matera asked about the Town’s recent acquisition of a boat, which he said he understood will cost $300 to $500 annually for winterization and a spring tune-up.

The boat would help with regular bulkhead inspections, which must be done throughout town, said Town Manager Melvin Cusick. Plus, the police and Town Hall wouldn’t have to rent or borrow a resident’s boat during emergencies. That need could include pulling an intoxicated human or a dead deer from the canals.

“This is a brand new endeavor,” said Mayor Pat Voveris, adding that she supports the program that got South Bethany a free vessel. “We’re a waterfront community. We’re a boating community.”

“It’s going to be cheaper to rent a boat than to buy it,” Matera said.

“Well, it depends how many times we use the boat,” Voveris responded.

Although LESO is a free program, there are associated costs, such as insuring a new military vehicle or hauling a boat up the East Coast.

The town council does not vote on each individual acquisition. Police Chief Troy Crowson explained the program to the council in July, but the council took no action to either condone or forbid utilization of the program.

Since then, the Budget & Finance Committee has considered instituting a bit more oversight, or at least requiring more information about the Town’s needs and the potential cost.

“I have asked for a detailed report on the costs of acquisition and the cost of getting it in shape to utilize,” Councilman Tim Saxton said. “Both of [the vehicles] needed some work to get started. We are tracking the costs. … We are going to track all the way down to the mile.”

If the acquisitions don’t work out, LESO allows the Town to sell the boat after one year, but the Humvee would be sold back to the U.S. government.

Nor’easter caused no problems that can’t be fixed

Major damage was sustained to the eastern face of South Bethany’s protective sand dunes during a nor’easter during the first few days of October. Instead of sloping gently down to the beach, the dunes now had an 8- to 10-foot drop, Cusick said.

A few pathways to the beach have been reopened, and 30,000 tons of sand was already moved out of one walkway. Sandpiper Pines seems to gain sand from the rest of town during storms, Cusick said.

When sand begins to naturally build up again, it will be moved with a bulldozer to help rebuild the dunes.

Overall, people remained safe in the storm, although there was flooding, a downed telephone pole and some boats that tried to float away, Cusick reported.

In other South Bethany news:

• The South Bethany Police Department is seeing more incidents of people driving under the influence. Most perpetrators are middle-aged, said Sgt. Lee Davis, with more of the drivers in their 30s, 40s or 50s, and not so much their late teens or 20s.

“It leads us to believe that everything that’s being done, it’s going the opposite of the way you’d like it to go,” in terms of preventative measures, Davis said.

• Davis was also congratulated for his promotion from master corporal to sergeant. He has served 24 years in South Bethany.

“This town is like a family to me. A lot of the homeowners I’ve known for years,” Davis said, so he and the rest of the department try hard to make people feel safe.

• Pam Smith was congratulated for her 10 years of service to the Town, having served as administrative assistant and FOIA coordinator. Voveris complimented Smith’s “dedication and ever-present positive attitude.”

• The South Bethany Women’s Club presented a $1,420 donation to the Baby Lowe Fund, which was matched by Voveris. Coleton Lowe is the son of a Fenwick Island police officer and suffered from a heart condition that required surgery soon after his birth. Fundraising for the family began even before he was born, but he has now arrived and successfully came through his first round of heart surgery.

• Many gutters and outdoor showers are still permitted to drain into the canals because they were connected before a ban was enacted. Resident Ed Nazarian asked why the town council won’t lift the grandfather clause regarding pipes that empty straight into the canals.

“This is a way that we could clean up this water so quickly,” Nazarian said.

“We haven’t seen any quantitative numbers in terms of the number of homes and what difference it could make,” Voveris said. Moreover, she said, the Town solicitor had advised council not to make such a change, due to the litigious nature of grandfathering.

Councilwoman Carol Stevenson asked how many pipes are still connected. She suggested the Canal Water Quality Committee go door-to-door to encourage people to disconnect them, as the Community Enhancement Committee did during a trash can project.

“It’s not hard to disconnect. All you have to do is let it go on the grass,” said Councilman George Junkin, which means it’s not expensive to disconnect, Councilman Wayne Schrader clarified.

• The council agreed to look into Phyllis Finger’s request to adjust the location of a “No Parking” sign on Ocean Drive, so that she and her neighbor’s guests can park in a small area between their houses without worry of being blocked in by a single car on the street. Currently, a single car can block that side yard, so guests’ cars can be trapped.

• An outside company is still expected to remove the air diffusers from the town’s canals, at a cost of $1,000. Junkin said the company has not yet found a buyer for the equipment.

• A town hearing board was appointed to hear the appeal of building permit fee by a property owner. Members include Wayne Schrader, Carol Stevenson and Sue Callaway.

• Having gotten feedback from the Town’s auditor, the council unanimously voted (with Frank Weisgerber absent) to amend the Capital Asset Replacement & Maintenance (ARM) Fund and Depreciation Policy by designating the Capital Asset Depreciation Fund as a committed fund.

• After a follow-up wetlands report, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) has noted that some ponds in the town have been around since at least the 1930s, while others have grown since the 1990s. Living shorelines could help stabilize the wetlands and absorb the impact of storms, they noted. But otherwise, “There’s nothing we feel need to be concerned about,” Voveris concluded “The town manager didn’t feel we needed to take any action.”

• Oct. 16 is the deadline for returning the town survey. Voveris said she was pleased that 400 surveys had already been returned within the first week.

The town council’s next meeting is a workshop on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m.