Fenwick Island seeks grant for sea-level-rise assessment

The Town of Fenwick Island is applying for another grant that could potentially help it and its property owners deal with the impacts of sea-level rise.

At their meeting on Jan. 24, the council voted unanimously to apply for a grant that would fund half the cost of an assessment of the town’s vulnerability to sea-level rise, about $5,000 each for the Town and State, according to Town Manager Merritt Burke.

A previous successful grant application yielded funding for the Town to look at drainage issues, and Burke said he felt the sea-level rise assessment would be a good use of funds. Even though the State has already performed a state-wide sea-level rise assessment, he said, the funding would allow the Town to update its maps to reflect potential flooding specifically within its boundaries, detail the risks and see what might be done to mitigate problems.

Councilman Todd Smallwood was skeptical of the usefulness of a sea-level-rise assessment for the town, which flooded heavily during Hurricane Sandy, as a result of its low-lying location on a narrow strip of land between the Little Assawoman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

“What could we do?” he asked. “With 1 to 4 feet of sea-level rise, we don’t have a town.”

Burke said the Town would end up with a bound report full of details, and could perhaps “come up with some kind of game plan for the future — $10,000 is a lot of money, but for $5,000, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. … We would be ahead of the curve.”

He said the findings from the study could mean some policy changes for the Town, in terms of ordinances or building regulations.

“If sea-level rises 4 or 5 feet, there’s nothing you can do,” he acknowledged, adding that the study could possibly help the Town deal with a foot or two of increase.

“We’re between the ocean and the inland bay — there’s only so much you can do.”

Burke said if the council was unsure about applying for the grant, they could wait and apply for one next year, but Councilwoman Diane Tingle said she felt that the council had all of the related information now and should vote.

“We’ll have all this information documented in one place,” she said of the results, if the State wanted to review it in the future.

Councilman Bill Weistling noted that the Town had already proceeded with some of the stormwater projects that originated with the prior grant. “This seems to fall in line with what we’ve been doing recently,” he said, leading into a 7-0 council vote to apply for the grant. Burke noted the grant is competitive, so the Town could end up not getting selected to receive it.

One resident later asked about the potential for solutions that might be involved in the assessment, noting that New Orleans is below sea level but is kept largely dry with levees and pumps. “There’s no reason we can’t be underwater with sea-level rise and still be dry,” he said, asking if the committee would be looking at that kind of potential solution.

Burke said such an idea would be considered and that he would make sure the engineers doing the assessment looked into it when developing the report.

“If the community has any concerns, now is the time to get them to Merritt,” Serio added.

Park proceeding, website features
added, weather impacts noted

Burke also reported on Jan. 24 that the work on the new Cannon Street Park was almost complete, with rain gutters installed leading to the rain gardens in the park and, once the weather breaks, a plan to pour the ADA-compliant parking. He said he expected the work to be wrapped up by early spring.

“The kayak ramp looks really good, as does the basketball court and landscaping,” he said.

Burke also reported continued work on the Town’s website and social media presence. A “social corner” on the website now features Twitter posts from government and news agencies, as well as those from the Town’s official @IslandFenwick Twitter handle. A new weather link directs users right to a localized forecast page. New seasonal photos have also been added.

Town department heads are being asked to review their related pages on the site in the next few months, with an eye toward updating them and adding more information. Additional cosmetic improvements are also planned before the end of the year.

And with weather-related emergencies on many minds this week, Burke said the Town’s new emergency fuel tank was nearly complete, with only electrical work to be done and expectations that it would be up and running by March 1.

The Town has also recently spent $2,280 in grant monies from the American Lung Association, as part of its tobacco prevention and environmental improvement campaign. An outreach banner, signage and additional receptacles for smoking materials are all now part of the effort, which has included nearly $13,000 in grants and spending since the Town’s decision last year to prohibit smoking in its parks and on its beaches.

Burke also reported receiving a forestry grant for the Town that, when the weather breaks, will mean 13 new trees being planted on Town property.

Building Official Patricia Schuchman reported at last Friday’s meeting that the Town’s building-related revenue was already at the budgeted amount for the fiscal year, “So that’s good.” In December, she said, the Town had issued licenses for 128 outside contractors, 75 rental properties and 21 resident merchants.

She also noted about a dozen calls the Town received during the cold snap last month about broken water pipes in homes in the town. Leading into this week’s continued wintery weather, she urged neighbors who observe signs of busted pipes to call town hall or the police department so that home owners can be notified.

Police Chief William Boyden seconded that idea, saying that officers had been checking under Fenwick homes for signs of leaks and had been able to isolate a few small ones. “If you see anything out of order, call us, so we can get on it before the property is damaged.”

Burke said the Town’s Public Works Department has continued its regular maintenance duties over the winter, as well as installing the park rain gutters and assisting with the Fenwick Freeze. They’re also working to repair and renovate the Town’s lifeguard stands and do some of the work involved in the ALA grant. He thanked them for their continued work on ensuring safety in the town during snow storms. “They make sure all the equipment is in top-notch gear and ready to go,” he said.

Restaurant owner concerned
about setback rules

The Town’s Charter & Ordinance Committee is set to meet on Feb. 4, with their proposed changes to the front setback regulations for commercial property set to go to the council for a first reading at the February council meeting.

Mark McFaul, co-owner of Ropewalk restaurant, said he was particularly concerned about the potential impact of the new ordinance on the palm trees, fence and playground at the front of their property. He said he’d been told they couldn’t be replaced if they were ever removed, and that would be a problem for them.

“If we lose that, we lose a lot of the feel of our restaurant,” he said.

The committee also reported that the issue of proposed changes to sidewalk regulations had gotten more complicated than had been expected, with a lot of input from various officials with DelDOT, as well as those with expertise in the Americans with Disabilities Act and others.