Letters: October 14, 2005

DelDOT should focus on essentials for bridge

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) recently halted its bidding process for the construction of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge. According to a DelDOT press release, the agency made the move after it “anticipated that the bid would come in at approximately $200 million, or as much as $80 million more than the original estimate.”

DelDOT said it remains “committed to building the bridge” and that they will be reviewing the current design and “other alternatives before determining what a new bridge over the Indian River Inlet will look like.”

It is my hope that DelDOT is serious about considering “other alternatives.” The current design for the new bridge is visually striking and cutting edge. With a main span stretching 1,000-feet across the inlet, it would be the world’s longest single concrete arch cable-supported bridge and the first of its kind in the U.S.

But the proposed bridge’s aesthetic appeal and engineering distinctiveness is driving up costs and reducing the number of contractors willing to commit to such an ambitious project.

This observation is supported by DelDOT Chief Engineer Carolann Wicks, who recently said: “The construction industry does not appear ready to build this particular type of bridge at this time.”

The strong tidal currents flowing through the inlet are undermining the supports of the current span. A new bridge is a necessity. It’s also a project that must be built within the next five years if we’re to ensure no interruption of Delaware Route 1 traffic south of Dewey Beach.

I applaud DelDOT for realizing that their futuristic bridge design carries too high a price tag and is attracting too little interest from builders. As they re-examine their alternatives, I urge them to refine this project to its most essential elements and use that to guide their decision-making process.

We need a replacement structure that will stand-up to coastal conditions, will be capable of handling more than the 18,000 vehicles that currently cross the bridge each day and won’t be impacted by tidal currents.

Accent lighting, beach-themed sidewalks and special railing patterns resembling beach grass — all features of the current design — should not be significant considerations of any redesign.

A more conventional design still holds the promise of producing a bridge that will be an attractive local landmark. A cable-stayed bridge, similar to the span used to cross Delaware Route 1 over the C & D Canal, would be a welcome addition to the coastline.

DelDOT is faced with some difficult challenges. Concrete and steel prices have jumped over the last year, while reconstruction work on the Gulf Coast is increasing demand for skilled contractors.

As they confront these issues, I urge DelDOT to seek a new bridge design that will focus on fulfilling the essential needs of our motorists while being a cost-effective investment for the taxpayers.

State Rep. Joe Booth

A conservative sounds off on president

In years past, I have been quite active about defending George W. Bush against attacks from the many leftists who write frequent letters to the editor bashing him. Unfortunately, Bush has disappointed me so often that I find it impossible to support him or even the Republican Party anymore.

Instead of eliminating the Department of Education, Bush has Ted Kennedy write the $26.5 billion education bill. Instead of cutting the worthless National Endowment for the Arts, Bush increased their budget by $18 million. He then offered another $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa! I don’t recall seeing any of these projects mentioned in the Constitution!

The tragedy of 9/11 was a great opportunity to force spending cuts in all government agencies to help fight the war on terror. Instead, Bush signs the $170 billion farm subsidy, adds a new entitlement with the $400 billion prescription drug bill (whose true cost is probably twice that!) and this year signs the pork-laden $287 billion highway bill!

When two devastating hurricanes hit within weeks of each other, does he use that opportunity to cut federal spending across the board to help pay for the damage? No. He just throws another $150 billion at the problem!

But hey, he cut our taxes.

And at least if the opportunity arises, he will appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court. Wrong again! Instead, Bush selects an unknown John Roberts, and says, “Trust me, Mr. Roberts is a conservative.” Isn’t that the same thing his father said when he nominated David Souter?

So when another opening came up on the Supreme Court, did Bush take that opportunity to reach out to his conservative base and correct one of the few mistakes Ronald Ragen made? No. He ignores dozens of proven conservative judges to nominate someone even more unknown than John Roberts to replace the liberal Sandra Day O’Connor.

Add all of this to his supporting of liberal Republicans against conservative challengers in primaries (Richard Riordan instead of Bill Simon in California, Arlen Specter instead of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee over Stephen Laffey in Rhode Island) and his completely screwing over Katherine Harris in Florida, not once but twice!

Did I mention Bush’s stance on illegal immigration or his not vetoing campaign finance reform (or vetoing any other legislation for that matter)?

In hindsight, perhaps we would have been better off with eight years of Al Gore. We would have probably still gone to war in Iraq after 9/11, but with the support of the liberal media behind the Democrat president’s war (remember how they supported Clinton’s Bosnia?) and a Republican Congress fighting the Democrat president to control spending.

Republicans seem to fear Hilary in 2008. I can’t imagine her being any worse than another Bush.

Tim Doyle
Ocean View

Remember the beauty of a lost friend

If you have lived in or vacationed in Ocean View for any amount of time, you will remember seeing the beautiful garden of Elwood and Hilda Marvel on Daisy Avenue. During the summer, tourists drive by to admire the beautiful flowers and stop by to buy a bouquet.

Sadly, my friend, neighbor and landlady Hilda Marvel passed away on Aug. 31. I consider her a pillar of our community because everybody, young and old, loved her and remembers her sitting on the porch in her wheelchair, taking in the sunny afternoon.

Her love of flowers and trees is evident on her property and mine and, of course, the garden.

Let’s all take a moment from our busy lives and offer a prayer for Hilda and one for her loving husband, Elwood, that we may keep him here with us for a while before he joins Hilda in heaven.

Carl and Betty Kendrick
Ocean View

Miss Delaware takes on domestic violence

As Miss Delaware 2005, I am in the fortunate position of being able to inform Delaware residents about an issue that is near and dear to my heart: eliminating domestic violence.

By serving as the official Delaware ambassador for Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine program, I hope to increase public awareness about how domestic violence can be prevented, eliminate preconceived notions/myths surrounding domestic violence and work with schools across Delaware to design an interpersonal violence educational system.

The statistics are staggering as 1 out of every 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime. Even more eye-opening is the fact that Delaware ranked fourth highest in the U.S. in domestic violence related homicides.

The HopeLine program collects used cell phones to benefit victims of domestic violence by selling the phones and donating the proceeds to domestic violence agencies, or donating the phones and airtime directly to victims to use in emergency situations.

To date, I have collected approximately 200 used cell phones for the HopeLine program but I need your help. I encourage individual Delawareans, community groups and businesses to donate their no-longer-used phones to HopeLine.

Just drop off your old cell phone to any Verizon Wireless Communications store. Local organizations such as the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence will benefit from your donation.

I will also be collecting cell phones at my many appearances across Delaware. By visiting www.missdelaware.org, you can see where I will be appearing next.

By participating in the HopeLine program, you can help break the vicious cycle of domestic violence in your community and support Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Becky Bledsoe
Miss Delaware 2005

Be careful when getting work done at home

Would you pay me $100 to make a simple phone call for you?

Would you pay me $400 for setting up an appointment for you?

Would you freely pay me hundreds, if not a thousand dollars to simply set up and arrange for your roof to be repaired or for windows to be installed on your home? I will not do the work, I will simply arrange it. Sound like a plan?

If you said yes to any of the above, then I have found my brand new career.

I have stumbled upon an ever-growing practice within the home improvement and remodeling industry here in Sussex County. It may be completely legal, but it’s completely wrong.

I call it “pseudo-subcontracting” or “con-artist subcontracting.”

Subcontracting, in its truest and most honest sense, is a vital part of the construction and home improvement industry. In most cases, the general contractor or original business contact, by his very job title and list of duties, is expected and required to locate and arrange services by electricians, plumbers, tile setters, roofers and the like.

This contractor gives full disclosure to his client, oversees and stands responsible and liable for the workmanship and performance of the subcontractors. He is the “point man” for the client. Delegating and arranging subcontracting is what he does.

My concern is with some direct service providers, i.e., home improvement businesses who offer many and varied services. Often, their ads tout quick response, years of experience and quality workmanship. Here is an example of the scenario that concerns me:

A customer has called XYZ Home Improvements to check a leak in the roof of their mobile home. XYZ’s ad in the phone book clearly states that they “build decks, repair or replace roofing, install windows, repair floors, any of your home improvement needs.”

The owner of XYZ and his helper arrive at the customer’s home and check the roof, telling the customer that they will have an estimate for them in a few days. The customer then accepts the estimate as given.

Even though it’s a bit high, the customer agrees due to XYZ’s advertised expertise and competence in re-roofing and has even gotten a few word-of-mouth referrals about XYZ’s work from people in the area. When the roof is completed, the customer settles the bill in full with XYZ Home Improvements.

The customer went to work while the roof was being repaired, ran errands or otherwise kept minimal contact with the men or women working on the roof, unaware that XYZ Home Improvements isn’t anywhere on her property, let alone on her roof.

Instead, ReallyGood Roofing, another direct service provider, whose ad is in the very same phone book, has done the job.

ReallyGood Roofing was paid $6,000 for the roofing job. But as the guys from ReallyGood carried the very first bundle of shingles up onto the roof, the owner and helper from XYZ were enjoying their second cup of coffee at the local eatery and smiling all the way to the bank.

The $1,000 they made required not roofing, but picking up the phone. The customer has paid them $1,000 for making a phone call.

She could have made that phone call with no expertise or special training. She never asked XYZ to be a headhunter, nor did she ask them to arrange the work with another company. In fact, she has no idea that she paid XYZ for services rendered by another provider.

If XYZ Home Improvements had disclosed that they were subcontracting the job to another company it would be a different scenario. If XYZ was genuinely too busy to complete the job and disclosed that to the client, it would be a different scenario.

In fact, if they would have simply referred the client to ReallyGood in the first place it would be a totally opposite scenario.

The lack of honesty and disclosure is what makes pseudo-subcontracting different from subcontracting.

I’ve heard the argument that it’s done often because the service provider is too busy to do it himself. Fine. If the customer is aware of the delegation and added charge billed to her for booking another provider, it’s ethical.

I’ve heard the argument that “lots of people do it.” Not fine.

What it boils down to is this: Buyer beware. And be aware. I believe this deceptive practice has cost many people many dollars. Many aren’t even aware it was done to them.

I am most concerned for the elderly victims or those on a fixed income. Many of them come from the “old school,” growing up in an era of character and integrity. Most would never bilk a neighbor to turn a buck.

If you need home improvements or building services follow these guidelines:

1) Compare estimates and services from several companies.

2) Demand a written contract in detail.

3) Request notification of all subcontracting involved with your contract and job to be done.

4) Do not pay in advance.

5) Be present if you can, or have a friend or neighbor in attendance while the work is being done. If you don’t know or recognize the person doing the work, ask him his name, how long he’s been with the company and the name of the company.

6) Ask for referrals, licenses, permits and liability insurance.

7) If you find he or she is a subcontractor for your original contact company, request written documentation of their payment and fee schedule on the job on your property.

8) If they hedge on this, demand it.

9) Please, please report all excellent craftsmanship and satisfaction to the Better Business Bureau. Even if they aren’t members, that information will show up under their name if anyone does a search. If they have done well, they deserve that recognition from you.

10) If the work was unsatisfactory or they failed to complete the job, or pulled con-artist subcontracting on you, report them to the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Protection Bureau at the state or local level and the Better Business Bureau.

There are many reputable and ethical craftsmen in this industry. Don’t let the others tarnish that well-deserved distinction.

If a business claims to offer several or varied services directly to you, make sure you aren’t paying them to have someone else do the work without your full knowledge and consent. Find out where your dollars are going and for what services. You might be surprised.

If they are subcontracting to others, it should never be a secret.

Do your homework and be careful.

Susan Weik