Bethany delves into renovation and rehab projects

Despite coming up short on bidders on a planned renovation to the Town’s beachside comfort station, Bethany Beach officials will proceed with a limited set of improvement to the structure, which also houses the beach patrol headquarters.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the town council on Oct. 18 that the initial estimate for a major refurbishment, including “minor bumpouts” for more space and two additional stalls each in the men’s and women’s restrooms, was about $250,000. But the Town only received one bid on the project, for $537,000, “making those very few pieces of porcelain very expensive,” he said.

So, instead of the larger project the Town had proposed, the existing facilities will be given a “high-end makeover,” he said. “I don’t think we will have the luxury of increasing space or utilities,” Graviet cautioned, adding that the project should be done before the summer of 2020, and that the Town will continue to look at upgrading the facilities as possible.

As the town heads into the depths of the winter season, Graviet said it will also be heading into its prime season for maintenance projects, starting with repainting the inside of its older water standpipe. He said the standpipe would be taken offline in November, both for the repainting and an upgrade to increase aeration inside, “which is always an issue,” he noted, adding that he believes doing so will be a significant benefit to the town.

The Town will also be doing the preliminary work to request approval from DNREC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a barrier to protect the Loop Canal from erosion. Saying that the Town had already removed a number of trees from the edges of the canal after they started to fall into it, Graviet noted that the Town has had the situation evaluated by engineers.

“We believe we need to save it as much as we can. With this rate of erosion, it is quickly filling up, and it may effectively dam a portion of the Loop,” he said.

The Town is now looking to get an estimate for a project to rehabilitate that strip of land along the manmade canal, Graviet said, noting that because the erosion does affect the passage of traffic on the Loop, such a project could qualify for some grant opportunities.

Graviet also reported on Oct. 18 that the Town had only received one bid on the combined work for improvements to Collins Street and the regular municipal street maintenance. Again, the Town had estimated the work as costing considerably less than the bid it received— $125,000 to $150,000 for the estimate, versus $350,000 for the single bid.

“A large portion of that was pervious pavement,” Graviet noted, pointing out that such an installation requires that a large box be installed across a minimum of an 8-foot swath, with a 5-foot path also planned. “We would have to deconstruct 3 feet of existing roadway,” he said of the task involved.

With minimal flooding issues on Collins, he said, the engineer had been asked to rework the project with a 5-foot standard asphalt path and any needed flooding abatement elements, with plans to rebid the project in hopes that bids would come back this time in line with the original estimate.

With only one bid coming back on its paving rehab contract, Graviet said the contract offered by George & Lynch, for $255,000, was what he would put forward for council approval. The council offered its unanimous approval. The project follows upon an engineering analysis of the town’s street conditions, which queues up streets to put on the top of the list to keep them in good condition. A list of streets planned for the pavement rehab is available at the town manager’s office.

The council also unanimously approved on Oct. 18 the engineering contract with Kercher Engineering, for oversight of the paving rehab project, for $30,000.

Graviet noted that, with the summer season officially concluded, a lack of parking in the town is a frequent complaint during those busy months. He said many people overlook the Town’s own public transportation system — its trolley.

“I don’t think another beach community does what we do in running our own system,” he said, noting that the trolley carried 44,500 people last year. “The trolley is one of the things we have done to try to create an outlet for parking issues.”

Another aspect of the town’s summer season is its seasonal police officers. Graviet took time on Oct. 18 to note that the Bethany Beach Police Department is one of the few departments of its size to seek and earn national accreditation. With that background, he said, seven of 16 summer officers — some of whom have served the town during many summers during their college years, he said — have now been hired as full-time officers in the four-state region.

“The hiring and training process in Bethany Beach is recognized in other departments,” he said of the statistic, marking it as “a credit to the department.”

Finally, Graviet provided the council with an update on the Town’s interaction with internet provider Comcast.

“We all know our concerns about Mediacom,” he said, pointing to those who are not happy with the existing provider’s service, downtime and other issues. “Their only competitor is Comcast,” he noted, stating that Comcast has been reluctant to enter jurisdictions that already have franchise agreements with Mediacom.

Though the Town’s franchise agreement with Mediacom is about to expire, Graviet said, even with that expiration, it’s very difficult for the Town to just walk away from Mediacom.

“We continue to explore ways to separate ourselves from the agreement, with hope that that will make it more attractive to Comcast to come in,” and potentially deliver service to residents in the Town.

One bright light on the horizon, he noted, was Comcast coming into downtown Bethany several days after the Oct. 18 meeting to place underground fiber-optic cabling to provide service to the town’s commercial district. Graviet said subcontractors were expected to be working along the commercial strip from downtown Bethany, along Route 26, and up Route 1 to Fred Hudson Road by this summer.

“We hope to take advantage of that at town hall,” he said, “and we hope that is the beginning of Comcast taking a different look at our community and being able to offer an alternative to Mediacom.”

Also at the Oct. 18 council meeting:

• Councilman Bruce Frye requested a waiver from the limit of two council members per town committee, per the committee guidelines, to allow three council members — himself, Jerry Morris and Patrick Sheplee — to continue to serve on the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade Committee. That request was unanimously approved.

• Graviet confirmed that the Town’s concession for beach services (umbrella and chair rentals, etc.) has been advertised for bids for the 2020 summer season, and that they were waiting for those bid packages to come back to the Town. He said he expected the concession approvals to be on the agenda for the November council meeting.

• Morris reported from the Budget & Finance Committee that the Town’s summer-related costs had increased much faster than related revenues this year. The committee projected that, next year, there could be a $200,000 shortfall, and possibly much more. He said the committee plans to urge the council to consider an increase in hourly parking rates — its traditional mechanism for funding summer-related costs.

Noting that the parking rate in Bethany has been $2 per hour for the last four summers, Morris pointed out that much of Ocean City, Md., and Rehoboth Beach has a $3-per-hour rate, while Dewey Beach charges $2.50 per hour. A $1-per-hour increase, he said, would bring in about $200,000 in additional revenue for the summer.

• Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee Chair Carol Olmstead reported to the council that the committee has decided to postpone planning off-season cultural events until the spring. She also reported that hundreds of people had come out for a preview of the Dinker-Irvin Cottage ahead of its closure for the coming year as the space is transformed into a museum.

By M. Patricia Titus
Digital Content Editor