Bethany approves funding for flooding feasibility study
Bethany Beach Town Councial members this week approved expending $55,000 in town funds to pay for the town’s portion of a study on the ways – if any – that the persistent flooding problems in the areas around Route 1 on the north side of the Route 26 intersection could be addressed.
The council voted 6-1 on Feb. 17 to spend $55,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services, to match with $64,000 in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding that would look at how the flooding problems – most notoriously in the areas of N. Pennsylvania Avenue and 1st Street – might be lessened or resolved entirely.
The question of whether anything can be done to address the problem remains, and that’s one thing the study would be designed to address, once and for all.
“In the past, I voted for this because it will either put to rest a problem that has been in this town for a lot of years or it won’t, and will finally put it to rest one way or the other,” explained Councilman Jerry Dorfman. “To me, spending the $55,000 makes a lot of sense.”
Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon noted that he had initially been opposed to the idea of yet another flooding survey, “because the Corps had spent $100,000 and hadn’t really come up with anything tangible.”
But, Gordon said, he had since changed his mind. “Now there’s money there so we can do the study, and we could possibly get an answer the town could accept as to whether anything can be done about the flooding.
Mayor Tony McClenny reiterated his stance in favor of the study.
“This is not simply a Pennsylvania Avenue/1st Street issue,” he said, after inquiring as to whether anyone thought he should recuse himself as an owner of flood-prone property, with no takers. “We have major flooding under storm events across entire north end of town,” McClenny noted. “All of us see it at the post office when we go there. We hear about it from some of our neighbors who are vocal who have this problem at their homes.
“I look at the broad scope across the north end of town, and I have a feeling there is something outside of town that could be done to reduce flooding in town … but we don’t have the authority,” he emphasized. “DNREC, the State does have that ability. I’d like to know what Corps could find that could help us.”
McClenny said he didn’t think the study would necessarily make all the complaints about flooding go away. “But it’s still a major annoyance to those affected. We owe it to the citizens, for this amount of money, to find out if anything can be done.”
Councilman Joseph Healy said he agreed that the effort was needed. “Especially on that side of Route 1, a pontoon boat would be helpful after storm events.”
The move, however, was not without opposition. Councilman Lew Killmer said he felt the chances of actually getting something done after the town’s investment in the study were pretty small.
“In my opinion, this is the Town buying a $55,000 lottery ticket,” he explained. “Even if we win this lottery, and there is a possible solution to this flooding problem, I’m also concerned with the state of the state and federal budgets. We would be spending this money in vain, that even if they have a solution, there won’t be accompanying federal and state funding.
“We already went down this road when we were looking at Pennsylvania Avenue,” Killmer suggested. “We spent a lot of money on engineering and studies, and we came to the conclusion that it would take $3.5 million to handle some rain events.”
Councilwoman Carol Olmstead said she was also less than gung-ho about the idea.
“We have no way of knowing how much money will be called for if they do come up with a solution,” she added, recalling a split council vote on the issue last summer.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet pointed out that the Town isn’t obligated to spend another penny as a result of helping to pay for this study.
“Depending on the solutions and what is found, you would determine how much more you would want to participate. … The Corps is partnering with the Town to work on a solution because much of the land involved is State property. DNREC will be very involved in whatever happens,” he assured the council.
Graviet also clarified that the council vote on cooperating with the study last summer had not been a close one but had been a 6-1 approval after a split vote on an amendment to the proposal.
Dorfman said he had been reassured by the fact that the Town had gotten a contract back from the Corps. “If the Corps did not obtain the funding, we would not have gotten the contract back. They’ve obligated the funding for this. Now, they’re asking for our $55,000 to go along with theirs.”
A resident of the Bethany Crossings neighborhood told the council he was very concerned about having the study done, so that the Town could know what avenues have to be taken to make the problem better. He said he was also concerned about what impact further development in the area might cause.
The council voted 6-1 on Feb. 17 to approve cooperating with the Corps on the flooding study, with Killmer opposed.
The Town, Graviet announced last Friday, is also partnering with the Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) to help protect a strip of land between the Loop Canal and the lake in Lake Bethany – a piece of land that the Town owns.
Graviet said the strip of land has begun, in recent years, to deteriorate from the south side, likely causing its decreased use as a rookery for great blue herons, which have been known to build a dozen or more nests upon the area in prior years.
The Town will contribute $1,000 of the $4,500 cost for 490 feet of bio-logs that will be installed by volunteers through the CIB, to help reduce erosion of the land and protect the nesting spot. Graviet said it was important for the project to be completed in a timely manner, so as to avoid interfering with the upcoming nesting season for the herons.
Parking permit fees to rise, council rejects meeting video
Also on Feb. 17, the council voted 7-0 to approve an increase in the fee for a second residential parking permit, from $25 to $35 per year. Dorfman explained that the fee increase was intended to help address the need for additional funding for police, lifeguards and parking enforcement officers.
“We always thought we had the highest salaries, but it turns out we don’t,” he noted. “And we have to be competitive. The lifeguards shop around from town to town and find out who’s paying the highest wage,” he added, also pointing out that the increase comes out to about 50 cents per day across the course of a summer season.
The council was split this week over a proposal they had appeared to support during an October 2011 council workshop – adding video to the live Internet broadcast and archive of council and Planning Commission meetings.
The council had instructed Graviet in October to investigate adding a two-camera system to the town’s new audio broadcast and archiving system, based on the notion that it will help those listening to the meetings determine who is speaking. The audio broadcast and archive has been in place since August.
Graviet reported on Feb. 17 that there were three options for the council to consider: continuing with the audio-only broadcast, though the services suite they pay for now includes the option of adding video; spending about $1,500 for a single camera that would provide a fixed view of the council table that might not provide a good indication of who was speaking; or spending $8,000 to $9,000 for a two- or three-camera system that would show a wider view of the council table and have the ability to use preset settings in a second camera to show a close-up of the person speaking, as well as an option for a camera to show the audience at the meetings.
Graviet said the higher-end system would also allow the Town to send live any presentation being projected in the meeting room directly to viewers at home.
Healy said last Friday that he wondered about the utilization of such features in a town the size of Bethany Beach, labeling it “cutting-edge” and “a bit over the top.” Graviet said that Seaford and Smyrna both use such a system, as does Sussex County, and likely other area municipalities. He also noted that there would be no additional cost beyond the equipment, as town staff would operate the system.
Resident Denise Boswell asked whether the council might consider the $1,500 system as an initial step and then get feedback on whether it was being used or whether the Town would benefit from the more expensive system.
The council voted 4-3 against Gordon’s motion to approve the two-camera system. (The Internet audience for the meeting would have been unable to know which council members voted for or against the proposal, due to the lack of video.)
At the Feb. 17 meeting, Dorfman also reported that the Budget & Finance Committee had voted last week to recommend that the budget for the 2013 fiscal year include a 25-cent fee to help pay for credit card processing through the parking paystations; a half-cent property tax increase, from 16.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 17 cents per $100 of assessed value – about 3 percent, or roughly $15 for the average property owner; and the increase in the fee for the second residential parking pass adopted by the council last Friday, as well as an increase for business parking pass-holders, from $25 to $50 per pass.
Dorfman said the increases were needed to help pay for increasing costs. The town’s operating budget is expected to be about 3.5 percent higher in the coming fiscal year, almost entirely due to personnel costs for police, lifeguards and parking enforcement officers, which he said left the town working to stay ahead of its neighbors in order to hire and retain the best personnel.
Transfer tax revenue has also continued to lag behind the budgeted amount for the year as the Town heads into the final months of its fiscal year.
The town’s trash budget is expected to be reduced this year, as last year’s costs included the start-up costs for universal recycling. The water budget is expected to be 1.8 percent higher. Dorfman said he didn’t expect there to be any increase in water or trash fees to residents this fiscal year but that water increases could be expected next year and trash fee increases the following year.
The council will hold a public hearing on the 2013 budget on March 13 at 10 a.m. at town hall.
Also on Feb. 17:
? Graviet reported that the Town had decided not to offer a proposed town-trolley shuttle to take residents between their homes and grocery stores or doctor’s appointments. Graviet said he had been informed that the Ocean View CHEER Center already offers such a service that – unlike its peers – does not require that users be using the transport to and from the CHEER Center itself. He said the Town did not want to offer a duplicative service, though 10 residents had said they would be interested in using it. He said he would advise them of the CHEER service instead.
? Officials also announced that town hall is expected to be a site for the spring session of the Institute of Lifelong Learning of the University of Delaware, for 10 sessions on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
? The Town will also be participating in the March 8 workshop on the Storm of ’62 at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, having its own table to document the impacts of the storm on the town.
? Graviet reported that the Town had received approval to erect the new poles for its lighting rehabilitation project on Garfield Parkway and was now awaiting the return of contractors to the project and the arrival of reworked fixtures from the manufacturer in order to complete the project.
? A special meeting, possibly on March 13, is planned to discuss the proposed creation of a small foot trail on Maryland Avenue Extended, from Route 26 to Hollywood Street, Graviet noted. He said the trail would have a crush-and-run surface and feature some adult exercise equipment, akin to that in John West Park in Ocean View. The Town will be reaching out to adjacent property owners, he said, and will take public comment at the special meeting.
? Graviet reported that it will be at least three weeks before DNREC workers begin to use the top layer of the sand deposited on the beach during the recent dredging activity to rebuild the dune to its engineered specifications.
? Councilwoman Margaret Young reported that she had meet with Sussex County’s historical planner this week and that he was going to be looking into whether some of the town’s older homes might qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.
? McClenny invited the public to attend the council’s workshops. “We’d love to have you,” he said.
? Olmstead said the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee was planning two potential cultural events for the spring, including a presentation by Civil War historian Tom Ryan on women’s roles in the war, and a possible presentation on the recently unveiled Delaware History Trail, with its dozen sites and passbook program.
? Council members passed, 6-1, with Healy opposed, an ordinance deleting another recently passed ordinance requiring a town council vote and approval for any change to town personnel and administrative policies.
? The council also approved an ordinance allowing the Town to revoke a business license for the owner’s failure to pay town fees and allowing it to discontinue services, with a potential hearing before the town manager and appeal to the town council being part of the process.
? The council set for March 16 at 1:30 p.m. a public hearing regarding proposed housekeeping amendments to the Table of Dimensional Requirements for the R-1A District, which was discovered by the building inspector to have errors in the footnotes.
? The council unanimously approved an edited version of the town’s latest comprehensive plan, based on recommendations from state planning officials and from the town planning commission. The plan will now be returned to the Office of State Planning for final approval and possible ratification.