Towns keep focus on bays and beaches

Date Published: 
Nov. 24, 2017

Officials from area coastal towns met recently under the auspices of the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT), focused primarily on the issue of dredging in the inland bays, Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon noted at the Bethany town council’s Nov. 17 meeting.

While that’s less of an issue for Bethany than some of its neighbors, Gordon noted that ACT had initially focused on beach replenishment, “And now that we’ve got that moving along, the focus has turned toward dredging the inland bays.” He said the topic is a tough one, and that getting money for such projects is hard.

In an effort to make some headway on the issue, ACT also invited staff members of U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.) to join them at the meeting, along with Sussex County Council members and the county administrator, Tony Pratt of DNREC and others.

“There is a lot of interest, and we are able, as a group, to get a lot more attention,” Gordon said, noting that Lewes and South Bethany, in particular, have been looking at dredging issues on their bay sides. “Some progress will be made eventually,” he concluded.

In the meantime, while the planned beach replenishment in Bethany, South Bethany and Fenwick Island is funded and was initially set to get started over the winter, Gordon acknowledged that officials from those towns have started to get a little nervous about whether the projects will be completed before the start of the summer season.

Pratt, he said last Friday, had told ACT that, as of now, the work will start in March.

“They still intend to put up fences and do whatever they’re supposed to do, and they do know it would be very difficult for them to continue the process as we get into the summer season,” Gordon said of Pratt’s response.

Additionally this week, Fenwick Island officials sought to address the concerns about the replenishment timetable by releasing a letter sent to the three town’s mayors, dated Oct. 17, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that assures the Towns that most of the work will be done on time, despite the later-than-anticipated start.

“Even with this start,” the letter says of the new spring start date for the dredging and beachfill portions of the project, “it is expected that [contractor] GLDD will complete the work within the 240-day period of performance. This 240-day period of performance will begin once the Notice to Proceed (NTP) is issued, which is expected by the end of October 2017.”

The Corp stated that no delays were anticipated in the installation of dune fencing, which they said they believe will be installed prior to June of 2018. However, excluded from that timetable now is the planting of dune grass in the project areas, which the Corps noted had its contract extended until April of 2019, though plans are to install it well before that.

“If construction is not completed until early Summer of 2018, the USACE Philadelphia District would ask the contract to plant the dune grass in October of 2018, which is the earliest month within the planting season.”

So it will be a grassless dune that summer visitors see in the 2018 season, but Corps officials expect the wider beaches and restored dunes to be in place early next summer.

On a side note, Gordon reported that Pratt had announced his plans to retire from DNREC as of April 1, 2018, with Mike Powell expected to be his acting replacement and possible permanent replacement.

“Big loss. He’s recognized nationwide,” Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer noted.

Projects making progress, new restaurant coming

Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported that Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee Chair Carol Olmstead had gotten the Town a definitive answer regarding handicapped access requirements for the Dinker-Irvin Cottage, which is in the process of being converted into a town museum.

“We are not required to make any adjustments or renovations to the house that would alter the historic character of home,” Graviet said, allowing the Town to leave it “as is” without having to widen doorways or deconstruct the interior to make it ADA-compliant.

He said the design for the front steps — which would be similar to other cottages built on the east side of Route 1 in the early 1900s — is under way, as well as that for a more substantial set of steps in the rear, so they can move equipment in and out.

Graviet said the Town had also confirmed that no handicapped access ramps will need to be added to the structure, due to the impact on the historic home. Adding the accessibility features would require the Town to widen both doorways, which he said “would destroy the kitchen, which exists almost as when the cottage was built.”

In lieu of ADA access, Graviet said the Town would have to provide “some sort of visual access” to the building, such as via video, pamphlets or written material. He said the Town was considering creating a video that it could provide to anyone who couldn’t access the structure itself.

Also in progress is bidding on the Atlantic Avenue redesign project, with bids to be opened Dec. 14. Graviet noted that there had been one “problematic” property where the elevation of the driveway and retaining walls had been an issue due to the pavers having been taken right up to the street.

“We’re going to be altering and bringing that down almost a foot so it intersects well with the new street,” he explained, noting that the Town was going to have to absorb the cost of that change.

Graviet also reported the permitting of construction for a new Ropewalk restaurant to be built on the north side of Garfield Parkway, west of Atlantic Avenue. He said the owners had resolved issues with the water supply and that the design complies with existing building codes. The new restaurant will seat 355 people, he said.

Ropewalk was initially opened in the area in Fenwick Island, but that location was later changed in theme and name, to Big Eye Jacks, while an Ocean City, Md., location was opened under the Ropewalk brand. Now, Bethany will have its own, larger iteration of the eatery, at the site of the former Fish Tales retail shop.

Finally, Graviet reported good news on the Central Park project. While the Town had had some issues with the Stormwater Conservation District wanting the park to be constructed under standards from 2007, he said the group had in the end permitted the newer 2013 approvals to stand.

Reverting to the older standards would have required a total redesign of the park project, he said, as it would have required a stormwater retention area of about an acre in size.

Ocean Way Estates residents ask for water

Residents of the Ocean Way Estates community west of Bethany Beach gathered at the Nov. 17 meeting to appeal to the Town to consider extending its water service to their community. Ocean Way Estates resident Linda Thompson told the council that a water line from the Town system already runs through their community on its way to Savannah’s Landing, though Graviet confirmed that only a few of the Ocean Way Estates homes receive water from Bethany Beach.

“Quite a few residents are interested in water instead of wells, due to the quality,” Thompson said, noting that they had been directed to consult the Town by Sussex County Councilman George Cole. “It’s all about quality. The cost would be no different than what we’re paying now for bottled water and softeners,” she added.

“I think, in 2017, when you’re surrounded 360 degrees by public water, to still have well water…” she lamented.

Ocean Way Estates has about 170 homes already built, with about 40 more homes in the process of being built.

Graviet noted that the Town has had some requests over the years to provide water to residents of that community, but he said he’d have to sit down with the Town’s water department to review past requests and how they were handled.

“I think there are a couple of issues that make it a little more complicated than just connecting to the service,” he said, recalling that the Town had “really looked at this” almost a decade ago.

Killmer queried whether the residents of the community would have to unanimously agree to be added to the Bethany water system. Graviet said he’d have to review that issue.

Another resident of Ocean Way Estates, saying he never has drank the water there and that it turns clothes orange, despite the fact that he rents “the best equipment … just to have water,” urged the council to consider that obtaining unanimous consent might be difficult.

“I would ask when you’re considering this that you consider the amount of people that have to sign up for this. There is a large contingency who don’t want it, but there are more people who want it than don’t. If one person holds out, or 10 people hold out, it’s not fair to everyone else.”

Graviet said he would look into the issue and get back to the community.

Also at the Nov. 17 meeting:

• Graviet reported that the Town had received about 1,060 responses to its beach tent and canopy survey, with a due date of Dec. 1 for responses. The council voted unanimously to hold a special meeting/council workshop at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12 to discuss the results and consider what moves it might want to make on the issue going forward.

• The council unanimously passed a series of changes to the Town’s stormwater and flood damage prevention ordinances that were recommended by FEMA. The changes replace a reference to “lowest floor” with “base flood elevation,” add the term “at least” in relation to the security of above-ground storage tanks, and address some minor issues and wording in the ordinance regarding accessory structures (sheds).

• The council also unanimously approved updates to its procedure and protocol manual, after an annual review.

• The council unanimously voted to cancel its December meeting, while the Planning Commission will meet in December.

• Olmstead reported that CHAC recently visited a museum in Bethel as part of its project to gather ideas for the town museum and network with other museums. They will be visiting Milford’s museum on Dec. 5.

• CHAC will also be organizing at least two “cultural evenings,” in which they hope to feature historic impersonator Patrick Mulligan as Benjamin Franklin and storyteller Ed Ockonowicz with “Tall Tales & Bald-faced Lies.”

• The group also plans to present its vision for the Dinker-Irvin Cottage soon, and has made overtures to owners of six homes that could potentially be added to its Heritage Trail of historic sites in the town, should the owners be able to provide sufficient historical information.