All steam ahead in Bethany Beach

Friday night was good to incumbents in Bethany Beach. The town council’s three officers — Mayor Jack Walsh, Vice Mayor Carol Olmstead and Secretary-Treasurer Tony McClenny — all won reconfirmation at the 7 p.m. reorganization meeting, which preceded the monthly 7:30 p.m. council meeting.

Not an inkling of opposition interfered with the accreditation of Walsh, Olmstead and McClenny, as the election outcomes were determined with the swiftness of a Rock Papers Scissors bout. Each candidate garnered unanimous 6-0 votes from their council peers and, barring resignations, will be entrenched in their positions for another year.

In his four years as a Bethany Beach legislator, Walsh rose from council member to secretary-treasurer to vice mayor. He then assumed control of the council president’s gavel in January, after then-Mayor Joseph McHugh retired.

“I came up through the ranks,” Walsh said last week. “I’ve had the exposure at all levels of the council and have a good familiarity with the entire structure.”

Olmstead, the council’s only woman, became the first female vice mayor of Bethany Beach when Walsh moved to the mayor’s seat. She has been on the board for two years.

“I am very happy to serve. I think that in the two years I’ve spent on the council, I learned a lot,” she said. “I think that we have a great council right now.”

McClenny — along with Lew Killmer and Jerry Dorfman — was one of three council members elected in the past year. McClenny was nominated and confirmed as the secretary-treasurer when the officers played musical chairs in January.

“I wasn’t exactly wasn’t sure what you all were getting me into in January when you selected me as secretary and treasurer. I now have a real good idea as to why nobody else nominated themselves for that position,” he said, inducing laughter from the audience. “I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve learned a lot. And I would like to thank the other council members for being a good team.”

With time to spare before 7:30 p.m., the council members gathered for photos and mingled with the audience. Once the regular meeting convened, the conversation in town hall quickly turned to beach replenishment.

President Bush and the U.S. House of Representatives Funds both submitted budgets this year that excluded funds for beach nourishment in Bethany Beach. The U.S. Senate, however, allocated $4 million for the local cause célèbre, and a compromise between the two legislative chambers could yield $1 million to $4 million for the town, Mayor Walsh said, citing his conversation with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-De.). The mayor expects to find out the final ruling in September.

John Himmelberg, a director for the Bethany Beach Landowners Association, pledged his organization’s assistance in lobbying for a sand-replenishment subsidy, which he called the BBLA’s top priority. Aside from writing letters to local newspapers, including the Point, Himmelberg said BBLA members would continue meeting with federal legislators to garner support and to discuss potential solutions.

The most impassioned debate of the evening centered on an ordinance, read by Council Member Killmer for the first time Friday, to regulate antennas in Bethany Beach. Robert Webster, president of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, opposed the ordinance. The fire company, he said, needs a taller antenna to be able to address the firefighting demands of its coverage zone — 20 square miles between the Indian River inlet and the Maryland border. Council Member Wayne Fuller, a member of the fire company, agreed that the current 80-foot tower is inadequate, saying its signal often fails to reach the volunteer firefighters who live more than a few blocks west of State Route 1.

“We have a problem with some of the things in here trying to prevent the height of some of the equipment. I live six blocks from this area and my beeper does not always go off right now,” Fuller said. “When you call 911, you expect a response. We respond when we get the call.”

Killmer said the town would consider putting antennas in elevated locations — on top of a building, for example — to help alleviate communication concerns. Webster condemned the compromise though. The tower belongs in the fire station’s backyard, he said, so the fire company can maintain easy, round-the-clock access to its antennas. When repairs to the tower are required, Webster said, “the wind is usually blowing a hundred miles per hour and the town is underwater.”

In other Bethany Beach business:

• Fuller gave the first reading of an ordinance to amend Section 80-27 of the town code. The changes would allow Bethany Beach to withhold adminstrative fees from the refunds it grants for unused building permits. Currently, the town returns the entire price of the permit.

• Town Manager Cliff Graviet urged owners of beachfront property to return easements, as requested by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The town will hold an information session from 2-4 p.m. on Aug. 26 to answer the questions of affected landowners.

• The council unanimously approved a contract that will pay $10,958 to AC Schultes for submersible pump repairs. Graviet said the town’s new 15-horsepower water pump will be able to accommodate the residents’ needs, even though it will reduce the flow of water by 100 gallons per minute.

• The council unanimously approved Vice Mayor Olmstead’s proposal to renew the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee’s license for its Seaside Craft Show through 2007. The show will be held on the Bethany Beach boardwalk during the first Saturday of June in 2006 and 2007. The inaugural Seaside Craft Show accumulated $6,000 this year for the town hall’s Welcome Museum.

• The council ratified a resolution in support of the Delaware Air National Guard, as it strives to protect a base in New Castle. Under recent military realignment, the Pentagon listed the base as subject to closure or restructuring. Council Member Harold Steele abstained.

• Secretary-treasurer McClenny delivered his financial report for the first four months of the current fiscal year, which began April 1. So far, he said, revenues taken in by the town exceed the purse accrued during the same period in 2004 by $39,000; however, Bethany Beach has only collected 48.86 percent of its operating budget revenues as compared to 55.33 percent during the same period last year. Expenditures, McClenny added, have decreased $3,300 from April-July of 2004, and the town has spent only 31.84 percent of its allotted budget expenditures this year, down from 35.74 percent last year. All in all, he said, the report was positive since year-to-date revenues exceed year-to-date expenditures.