South Bethany re-ups with beach lobbyists

South Bethany Town Council members voted to renew their share of a contract with beach replenishment lobbyists Marlowe & Company at the Dec. 9 council meeting, entering their second year with extra-governmental support for local replenishment projects.

Mayor Gary Jayne spoke highly of the firm. “They’ve been a major assistance to our Congressional delegation,” he said. Between the lobbyists and the efforts of Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle, Bethany Beach and South Bethany received $3 million in federal funding this budget cycle.

The towns split costs for retaining Marlowe (50/50), and council voted 6-0 (Council Member Richard Ronan absent) to approve the $22,750 expenditure.

Jayne said Bethany Beach Town Council was slated to vote on its share of the contract Dec. 16, and he’d heard confidence from Mayor Jack Walsh that Bethany council would be following suit.

Council also unanimously approved a $49,100 addendum to the town’s contract with architects French & Ryan. The firm will continue detailing plans for the pending town hall/police station project (not to exceed $970,000, combined), and Council Member Marge Gassinger expected bid documents should be ready by February or March.

Council Member John Fields reported the state’s receipt of South Bethany’s recently updated Comprehensive Development Plan. He said he hoped to see the state’s Preliminary Land Use Service (PLUS) approve the update later this month.

“I’ve told the Planning Commission that, if the plan’s approved before the end of the year, they can have January off to go to Florida,” Fields quipped.

In other business, council reviewed the upcoming schedule for budget talks, and Jayne advised everyone to submit their pet projects early in the process.

Talk returned to central gas service in the public-participation segment, and George Rosenberg (Black Gum Drive) expressed his displeasure with recent turns of event.

He said he’d voted for the Sharp Energy underground propane tanks (back in 2003) at least in part because he’d felt the company intended to expand services through the Cat Hill neighborhood, on the west side of town.

“What it amounts to,” Mayor Gary Jayne explained, “in the lease agreement, there’s nothing to compel Sharp to run lines through Cat Hill.”

Council Member Jay Headman, who coordinated a visit from Sharp representatives at last month’s meeting, once again referenced a survey for interested customers in the unserved area. Sharp representatives downplayed the number of survey respondents who’d expressed an interest, but Headman contested that interpretation.

By his accounting, nearly 50 percent of Cat Hill survey respondents indicated they’d be interested in hookup, either immediately or within two years (and this was in 2003).

However, “There’s some difference of opinion, as far as what that survey was supposed to tell them,” Headman said.

Vince Durkin (Brandywine Drive) contrasted Sharp’s strong promotion of the underground storage project back in 2003 with the company’s lukewarm efforts to sign new customers since then.

And he suggested town residents were getting the short end of the stick from utilities in general. Durkin recalled recent discussions between the town and a Delmarva Power representative regarding the relocation of overhead utility lines, saying “that guy sounded like he went to school for negativity.”

(Some around town were interested in moving utility lines underground, but Delmarva Power indicated no support for that sort of project.)

Tom Roche (Henlopen Drive) asked council about corrective action regarding soil conservation at construction sites around town (mud in the roadway), and Jayne admitted it was an ongoing problem.

“No excuses, but it’s like pulling teeth,” he said. “They put the silt fences up, they get knocked down and they stay knocked down, unless you go out there and beat up on them.”

On the other hand, Ed Nazarian (Peterson Drive) thanked council for helping him resolve drainage issues at his lot. “It took a while, but they got it done,” he said.

Rosenberg asked if council had any plans for a communitywide system of walking paths — he said he was planning to make a permanent move to South Bethany in a few years, and both he and his wife were avid walkers.

Jayne noted a few walkways here and there, but nothing comprehensive. The one major walkway project the town has planned for the south side of York Road was ready to go, he said, but bogged down in the wake of the budget crisis at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

Al Rae, president of the South Bethany Property Owners Association (SBPOA), presented council members with a recent association survey, saying he’d leave it up to them to interpret the results.

SBPOA members gave the town fair-to-good marks on many of the issues, and in four areas ranked the town’s management near the top of the chart (police service/law enforcement, emergency services, property taxes and trash).

However, they rated town efforts low, on issues of beach erosion, getting the town’s canals dredged and improving water quality in those canals.

Jayne commended the SBPOA’s efforts, and called the survey “of great value to the town.” Regarding the low marks, he suggested the responses showed everyone’s frustration, which he and the rest of council certainly shared.

“But these things are, to some extent, out of our hands,” Jayne said. “They depend on the state, and as far as beach erosion, on the federal government.” He did say he was confident the town would get its permit to dredge the canals, although there were still some hurdles to clear with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

SBPOA members ranked water quality in the canals as the number one top priority, and trash handling/pick-up as second-highest.

Survey respondents ranked rental taxes/licenses and play areas for children as far and away the least important issues facing the town.