Fenwick town council talks dredging and borrowing

Date Published: 
Dec. 29, 2017

The Fenwick Island Dredging Committee met in December to begin brainstorming a plan of attack in their quest to improve navigation in the Little Assawoman Bay and two channels leading there.

“We do not meet the Army Corps of Engineers’ metric for getting federal funding,” which prioritizes commercial shipping on waterways. “We have to look at the ocean and the bay as our factory. We produce a lot of jobs … and income in the state with the ocean and the bay, and we maybe need to start looking at them differently.”

Committee Chairperson Bernie Merritt said Fenwick needs to make some noise. The committee began doling out assignments, including contacting state and local legislators.

They discussed past scientific and economic studies, as well as how to involve the public. This summer, property owners packed town hall to share their concerns about waterway safety and dredging.

While the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control takes the lead on water, some other states consider waterways as a mode of transportation, so perhaps DelDOT could someday be involved. Either way, Fenwick’s goal is to keep consistently working on the issue, so their momentum doesn’t just fizzle out.

“We are not alone, and I think we’re stronger together,” Town Manager Terry Tieman said of the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT), which includes six towns from Fenwick to Lewes that are also interested in maintenance of smaller waterways.

“The key is we concentrate on the beaches so much — and we should — we can’t lose track of how important the bay is to the … tourism and economic footprint,” Merritt said.

The Dredging Committee hopes to meet again in January and invite DNREC officials to discuss the results of a 2016 bathymetric survey.

Town plans

charter change

It’s been about 65 years since the Town of Fenwick Island was founded, and the town council recently realized that some numbers have not been adjusted for inflation.

In December, the council decided to change the town charter to increase the short-term borrowing cap for the council, from $500,000 maximum to 5 percent of the total assessed value of all non-tax-exempt real property located in town. Right now, the assessed value of the town’s real estate would set that borrowing cap at about $1.5 million. Any such short-term loans would have to be repaid within 10 years.

Council Members Roy Williams and Julie Lee said they preferred that borrowing anything over $500,000 require a supermajority vote of the council, which ultimately led to Williams dissenting in the 6-1 vote.

“I have a problem with it being done by four people. I’d like to see it done by five, because it’s quite a bit of money,” Williams said.

“We pass the budget every year with four people,” Councilman Richard Mais countered.

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean said the council is typically unified in major spending decisions, although Lee pointed out that future councils may not be so united.

But the original charter was written without the requirement of a supermajority, and the town council has voted to keep it that way.

Fenwick’s next step will be to ask state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. (R-20th) and state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) to sponsor the amendment in the Delaware State Legislature, which must itself approve town charter changes by a two-thirds majority.

In other Fenwick Island news:

• After un-tabling a proposed change to the zoning code, the council voted 5-2 (Lee and Williams opposed) to allow some businesses to keep mechanical equipment in property setbacks. Council members had requested to see a diagram showing exactly how commercial lots and their neighbors would be affected by changes to Code Chapter 160-5.C (Area Regulations — Commercial).

Corner business lots will be allowed to have mechanical equipment (such as mechanical pumps, ice machines and more) encroaching 4 feet into their 15-foot side setback. Some businesses could also encroach within 6 feet of the rear property line.

Some residents said they were worried that the allowance places equipment closer to their homes, but most council members said they felt it will allow some leniency from another recent and more strict law, which could have pushed businesses to choose between retail space or putting noisy mechanical systems on their roofs. Vegetative buffers and other screening are also already required near residential properties.

• The 2017-fiscal-year audit was recently completed, with auditor Tom Sombar reporting “a very strong year for the Town — a lot more positives than negatives.” He made some recommendations to improve bookkeeping, which Tieman said staff are already doing. She said the Town’s transfer to a new bank complicated some bookkeeping work, but the system should be smoother now.

• Fenwick police reported an increase in phone and mail scams. People are being encouraged to simply ignore suspicious phone calls and emails. When collecting taxes, the IRS, State and Sussex County will only send official mail through the U.S. Postal Service. They won’t telephone people, demanding money orders or pre-paid debit cards for payment, police emphasized.

• After a presentation from Verizon Wireless, the Technology Committee had recommended the council pursue small-cell wireless technology (from all companies) in town, which should improve mobile signals. The Charter & Ordinance Committee will discuss that at the Jan. 5 meeting.

• The 14th annual Fenwick Freeze will be held on New Year’s Day at 11:30 a.m. at Bayard Street on the beach. Registration is from 9 to 11 a.m.

• The Environmental Committee will celebrate Earth Day with a town-wide trash pick-up event on April 21.

• At the 2017 Turkey Trot, 651 participants and 54 dogs raised $8,100 for the Roxana and Bethany Beach volunteer fire companies. Organizers said that next year, someone else might need to take over planning the Thanksgiving fun-run, or it could become a more casual, no-cost event.

The Fenwick Island Town Council’s next regular meeting will be Friday, Jan. 26, at 3:30 p.m.