Fenwick talks meetings and sporting event

A joking suggestion that members of the Fenwick Island Town Council lead off their March 12 “workshop without agenda” (WWA) by canceling the WWA actually got some serious attention from the council members.

The suggestion was made mostly in jest, upon discovering that all but one of the council members were present, but only three community members had shown up for the meeting.

However, Council President Peter Frederick responded seriously, with a reminder of the WWA’s established purpose: to provide an opportunity for community members to talk to the council and to allow the council to move forward with ideas outside the official parameters of town council meetings.

Council Member Theo Brans also championed the WWA’s ability to allow council members to discuss matters informally.

That said, Frederick noted that the lack attendance at the meeting might indicate canceling the WWA — or reducing their frequency — was a good idea. Council Member Vicky Carmean, however, said she felt any decisions on the future of WWA’s should be made in the fall, on the balance of likely heavier attendance during the summer.

Drawing more extensive discussion from council members and attendees alike was the planned “aquathlon,” brought forward by Council Member Chris Clark. (“Aquathlon” is a term from the USA Triathlon organization; the event generally involves a short foot race and brief swim.)

The proposed event, tentatively set for Saturday, Aug. 20, (rain or shine) would include a half-mile swim and a 5-kilometer road race, in conjunction with a 5-kilometer walk, he said.

Clark noted that sports management company Surfracer Sports was due to bring the plan before the council at its next formal meeting, on Friday, March 18. The company has also organized an aquathlon for Rehoboth Beach on Labor Day, with proceeds to benefit that town’s Main Street project.

Tentative plans for the Fenwick Island event would call for a 7:30 a.m. start on Aug. 20, with the race to be completed around 10 a.m., and awards presentation to be done by noon that day, Clark said. He noted that initial discussion had included Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse as a beneficiary.

Clark said the proposed race route had been checked by Police Chief Colette Sutherland and that she had said her department could safely maintain the route. He said the date had been chosen to fit the event neatly within the existing race circuit in the area.

Clark noted that Surf Racer Sports would manage every aspect of the event, from advertising, insurance and registration to parking and coordination with police. He said the company’s typical contract involves donating 25 percent of profits from an inaugural event to the charity of the sponsor’s choice, followed by an increase of 5 percent in the percentage of donation for subsequent years in which the event is held, up to 50 percent.

Remaining early items to be dealt with, Clark said, included the town’s official status as host or sponsor of the event (or simply choosing to approve it taking place), as well as needed beach-end parking waivers for the planned race staging area on Farmington Street.

Frederick said he was concerned the event would draw too much traffic and bring too little benefit for the community, but Council Member Audrey Serio drew the comparison with the annual Sea Colony Triathlon near Bethany Beach.

Clark noted that the town could expect to bring in additional business for its commercial areas during the event. Brans said the event would also have great potential as a spectator event, as happened with the town’s Jan. 1 ocean swim, the Fenwick Island Freeze.

Brans reaffirmed that the town’s police had no problem with the plan but suggested another charity, such as a breast cancer charity, be considered as a beneficiary, since the lighthouse group was the beneficiary of Fenwick Island Freeze.

But Clark argued that the town should stick with a single charity beneficiary for such events this year, with consideration of other charities for both events in future years.

Council Member Harry Haon noted that the council would have to make a clear decision between being an official sponsor of the race versus simply permitting organizers to use the town as the venue. Serio suggested the town allow the inaugural event and make a decision on future aquathlons afterward.

Formal discussion of the idea will take place at the March 18 town council meeting, after the planned presentation.

Carmean then broached the topic of “goose preventer” with the council, noting that she had received a recommendation to apply “garden sulfer” as a natural soil acidifier that would make the grass in her lawn distasteful to geese.

The package she provided to council members indicated it was safe for use around children and pets, but she and the other council members agreed further research was needed on the product’s safety for both the town’s inhabitants (two-footed and four-footed alike) and the bay ecosystem.

Brans and Carmean said they had both heard of cases in which the product had been applied in the recommended doses and had been effective in driving away geese, but all agreed that Environmental Committee Chairwoman Martha Keller should look into the product’s safety before the town took any sort of official stance on its use.

Discussion drifted into other concerns about items that end up in the town’s lagoons, namely grass clippings, fish cleaning debris and dead wildlife. Serio suggested a reminder about not allowing such materials in the lagoons should be included in the town’s next newsletter.

Also dealing with the topic of refuse, resident Joyce Chaconus said she hoped the town planned on moving its trash trucks soon. She said the trucks were now being parked on the town’s basketball court and park area, reducing the usefulness of the area and causing concerns about visual and odor pollution to nearby property owners, including Chaconus herself.

Extensive discussion ensued of other possible locations for the trucks to park, with acknowledgement that the town’s covered garage was not big enough to accommodate the trash trucks and other public works vehicles nor well ventilated enough to be a truly suitable space for the trash trucks.

Serio said she would look into the possibility of off-site storage of the trucks outside the town’s incorporated area, including possibly using a boat storage yard or other open parcel of land with its owners’ permission.

The problem of trash left out for collection in plastic bags was also tackled, with residents noting that weekend-visiting property owners often reject leaving their refuse in trash cans due to fears of the cans blowing away before they return the following weekend.

In the end, council members recommended Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan be consulted about the extent of the problem before it was tackled through any kind of ordinance or enhanced enforcement effort.

Clark inquired with other council members for their feedback on a town donation policy. Clark’s committee has met to discuss the issue, but he wanted preliminary feedback from the council before moving forward with discussions.

The committee had brought forward an initial plan to divide the town’s donations into three categories: 1) a $500 amount to be doled out in $50 donations, as determined by town employees or an administrator; 2) a second $500 amount, to be given in $100 donations as determined by the council president; and 3) major donations, such as those to the area’s fire and ambulance services, and/or libraries.

Two of the residents present voiced opposition to the town making donations from taxpayer funds, especially to groups other than the fire and ambulance services. Frederick said he also felt that way, with donations to those groups basically being a payment for services provided to the town. Carmean agreed.

Others objected to the idea of town employees making decisions on any charitable giving, instead proposing putting the decision-making ability for small donations in the hands of the council, town treasurer or administrator.

Haon said he had no problem with small donations being given to community organizations, but his bigger concern was the significant disparity between the amount donated by Fenwick Island to the ambulance and fire services and that given by Bethany Beach.

“We’re not in the same league as far as donations,” he said, wondering out loud why such a disparity existed. “How is Bethany in a position to donate $5,000 to the fire department?” he asked.

(Fenwick Island routinely gives the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company an annual donation of $500, while Bethany Beach in recent years has generally given an annual donation of $10,000, plus a $20,000 donation this year toward the company’s building-fund drive.)

Haon said he supported the idea of dividing a smaller amount — such as $1,000 — into smaller donations, but he proposed the town set aside a significantly larger amount, such as $5,000, for making sizeable donations to two or three service groups, such as the fire company, ambulance service and/or library.

Serio said she felt the support to those organizations should be increased, with the town’s increasing year-round population drawing on the services ever more often.

Clark said he would take the feedback to his committee members to work on creating a formal policy for the town’s charitable giving.

Finally, resident John Belian noted that he had given up on his idea of organizing an annual fishing tournament in the town. He said his research into the plan had shown him such tournaments take “an enormous amount of effort to establish and run.” He said he had not found any existing organization or fount of interest in the town for such a tournament.

Belian had proposed the tournament take place for the first time in the fall of 2006, but even that lengthy period had proven to be insufficient to organize the kind of event he had envisioned, he said.

However, bringing a new seed out of the ashes of his original idea, Belian announced that he had decided to start the Fenwick Island Fishing Club, an organization that would serve as a “venue to bring fishermen together.”

And by “fishermen,” he said, he meant fishing fans of all ages, genders and varieties — not just men or surf-fishermen, but women, families and freshwater fishermen as well.

Belian said he planned to have an organizational meeting for the club in the near future and from there to form its actual structure. There would be no immediate efforts to raise funds with the group, he said, but it might eventually serve to raise funds for charity as an adjunct to its fishing foundations.

Residents of Fenwick Island are his target audience, Belian said, but he allowed the group might eventually be able to expand to include others.

Clark praised Belian’s ability to move beyond his original idea and still find a way “to bring people together in their hobby.”

For more information on the club, contact Belian at (302) 537-1742.

In closing the meeting, discussion again returned to the possibility of moving the regular town council meeting to another time. Frederick noted that the existing 3:30 p.m. start time had been selected to minimize overtime for town staffers who were needed for the meeting. He again referred to a previous survey that indicated an even split in preferred times.

Carmean said she would prefer to move the meeting back to 5 p.m. or a little later, to allow more transit time for non-residents, and providing town staffers with “flex time” to accommodate the hours of the meetings.

Council members also suggested the meetings might be sped up a bit, which brought the subject back around to the meeting’s first topic: the WWA — something partially devised to speed up formal council meetings by allowing informal discussion.