Coastal towns find strength in numbers

In coastal Delaware, it’s time to ACT up.

Perhaps a decade has passed since the coastal towns came together in an official alliance. But the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT) is re-forming, with Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island already in on the ACT.

After the first formal meeting of the three towns’ mayors on Jan. 5, they now plan to invite Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Lewes to join them at their Feb. 3 meeting.

The beach towns formed ACT years ago to lobby for Delaware sand dunes. That mission was accomplished around the same time the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) was forming. The local towns disbanded ACT to join the larger group, SCAT.

But, these days, the biggest challenges for these beach towns are again ones that are unique to those easternmost towns. They want to create a singular voice to address important issues, such as lobbying for dune repairs or funding environmental studies.

Beach replenishment is the most pressing issue, especially as the federal government hasn’t yet confirmed that funding will be available for the 2017 southern beach replenishment cycle. Mostly funded by the federal government, beach replenishment helps to maintain the sand dunes that protect homes, businesses and infrastructure.

“I think it would be good if we had a concerted … effort” to ensure southern beach towns are included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ next budget for beach replenishment, Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon told his council in November.

State officials encouraged the alliance, emphasizing the power of regional lobbying efforts.

“It’s a multi-tier initiative,” said South Bethany Mayor Pat Voveris. “We just want to make our towns solid, and protect and make our waters healthy.”

Of particular interest to beach towns are the issues of climate change flooding and sea level rise; offshore drilling and sounding activities; volunteer fire company issues (especially diminished volunteerism); the local economy’s dependence on tourism; reduced transfer tax revenue; and inland bays activities (such as aquaculture).

But the towns have no intention of leaving the larger Sussex County association.

“SCAT’s a really good organization, but we have obviously different needs than the towns in Western Sussex,” said Fenwick Island Mayor Gene Langan. “With the issues of beach replenishment coming up, we just thought it was good to start up again, just because of the unique things [to beach towns] … What we want to try to do is have one voice.”

To make that voice even stronger, the mayors of Rehoboth, Dewey and Lewes are now being invited to attend the February ACT meeting or send members of their town councils or planning commissions.