Fenwick beach replenishment work to begin as soon as next week

Fenwick Island officials were told this week that work on the planned beach replenishment project being coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin there as soon as late this coming week or perhaps the following week and will likely take three to four weeks. A specific start date and location was still not available, but officials said recently that they hope the resulting beach closures and inconvenience to beachgoers can be minimized.

No details on when the replenishment might start in other Delaware beach towns were announced this week.

Councilman Bill Weistling Jr., at the Fenwick Island Town Council’s June 28 meeting, had noted that contractors on the job had already come into the town and touched base with officials there about the preliminary work on the project.

Town Manager Merritt Burke said the preliminary work was a survey company that had already gotten anchored off the coast.

Councilman Gardner Bunting noted that beachgoers had seen the anchor being set near Cannon Street on June 23. “It was quite a show,” he said.

“It’s a waiting game,” Bunting added, saying he hoped to get some news soon on the timetable for the project and hoped the Town could control how much of the beach the contractors would close on any given day, if cooperation from the contractor was as good as in the most recent replenishment project.

Burke said he was continuing to pursue a more specific timetable for the work and would get that information to the community as soon as he could, likely via Facebook or Twitter first and then on the Town website and a posting at town hall. The Town used the social media outlets this week to announce the late-July start date and then update the community with the new information that the work could start as soon as late the following week.

Resident Lynn Andrews noted at the June 28 meeting that she felt Public Works Supervisor Bryan Reed deserved to “be patted on the back for all he’s gone through” with the mobility-enhancing Mobi Mats at the dune crossings.

Bunting noted that the mats are expected to “be moved back and forth all summer,” due to the replenishment project and other work being done by DNREC.

Financial picture looking up

The Town is also coming into the final stretch of its budget process for the 2014 fiscal year. Bunting said he expected the Town to finish the 2013 fiscal year within the parameters of the budget, on the positive side, “maybe not by a lot, but it will be close,” he said, noting that some departments were a little under-budget and others a little over.

Burke said he had met with the Town’s department heads to make sure they were within their budgets and to identify any savings they could find. He said he was confident the Town would come in under-budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

One reason for that is that the Town’s building permit fee revenue has already come in $26,000 more than budgeted.

“It proves the local economy is coming back,” he said. “We’re seeing business pick up in town, especially with residential renovations.”

The Town has also received $191,000 in transfer tax revenues thus far in the fiscal year, with Burke saying he expected to top $200,000 by the end of the fiscal year. He said transfer tax revenues had averaged around that number in the last few years. The Town has also exceeded its budgeted revenue for building permits for the year.

One of the Town’s own renovation projects is also nearing its finish, with the rain garden partially installed in the new Cannon Street Park, delayed somewhat by the recent deluge of rain and awaiting the installation of the final plants, which were being stored on the basketball court in the meantime. Burke said he recognized that was inconveniencing those hoping to use the court but that he expected to get the plants in once it stopped raining.

Installation of an ADA-accessible dock, staging area and parking are to follow. Burke said he hoped to have the park completed by Labor Day.

Burke also said the town hall sidewalk project was also going to be going out to bid for fall construction, with funds likely coming out of Municipal Street Aid funding, which Burke said had been increased in the budget bill passed by state legislators last month. He said the Town would be requesting some funding from the State to pay for the sidewalk project.

He also told council members on June 28 that the Town had received the full amount of American Lung Association grants for its smoking ban enforcement efforts, along with preliminary approval for a 50/50 match grant for a drainage study and a Homeland Security grant for construction of concrete pads at town hall to support fuel tanks.

Andrews told the council she was concerned about the budget — particularly the police department’s take-home patrol cars, which are a common but increasingly less common perk enjoyed by local officers but which Andrews said seemed to her “like a fringe benefit they shouldn’t have.”

Weistling acknowledged that the suggestion had been made to take away that benefit and that he had initially been opposed to take-home cars.

“But then I thought, if we were taking it back, it had been a benefit they had had,” he explained, adding that he had also considered the notion of compensating the officers for the cost of their commute, in lieu of providing the take-home cars. “But, after hearing from the chief on this policy, I have to agree with him,” Weistling said.

Councilwoman Diane Tingle noted that the benefit is one many other local police departments offer to their officers and one she felt Fenwick couldn’t afford to take away.

“Do we want to constantly have new officers that we have to pay to send to the academy?” she asked rhetorically, noting that such benefits may be the difference between retaining an experienced officer and losing that officer to a town or other police force that offers the take-home-car benefit.

Andrews said that, “In this day and age, people are losing their benefits left and right.” She said she felt the police chief should keep his take-home car, “But I think we have to look at that.”

Police Chief William Boyden announced at the June 28 meeting the hiring of a new officer, Carl Curten, who replaces another officer. Boyden said Curten has 10 years of police experience, having served as a deputy sheriff in Wicomico County, Md., and having also served previously as a handler for a canine officer.

“He’s very professional, very courteous,” Boyden said of Curten, whom he noted can often be found out on bicycle patrol in the early morning. “We were very fortunate to get him.”

Boyden also said he was making plans to hold an open house for the police department and new town park, tentatively on Sept. 14, offering information on emergency preparedness and other town services, as well as a State representative who would offer information on bicycle and pedestrian safety.

“It’s been a very bad month in Sussex County for pedestrian and bike accidents,” Boyden said. “We were very lucky there was nothing in town limits,” he added, noting that there had been two fatalities right outside town limits, as well as a near-fatality. “They were all attributed to pedestrians not following the rules and walking out in front of vehicles,” he emphasized, reminding people to cross the roads at crosswalks and at traffic lights, and, at night, to wear bright clothing.

“When you go up against a car or truck, they win,” he said.

Boyden also noted a recent increase in petty theft, which he said had mostly been from vehicles that had been left unlocked, with items in plain view. He said, however, that when a visitor from New York had had their credit cards and wallet stolen, police had been able to track down the thief and make an arrest within six hours.

Lifeguard Capt. Tim Ferry said the FIBP’s junior lifeguard program had “really taken off once again this year,” with 26 participants in the group that works on lifeguarding skills during most of the summer. Those who have participated once can move on to the advanced class, which Ferry said he expected to have 40 to 50 additional participants.

The lifeguards themselves are also chalking up the experience this year, Ferry said, with only seven of 30 guards being rookies. “We have a great crew out there,” he added.

Town seeing positive results on smoking ban, water quality

Reporting on behalf of the Environmental Committee, resident Buzz Henifin said the group had conducted their first “butt count” two weeks prior, as a measure of the success of the smoking ban on the town beaches and in its parks. He said cigarette butts had been found in all but one of the new receptacles, though one had turned up missing and another had been broken. He said the counts would continue.

Henifin also reported positive results in recent water quality reports in the town’s sections of the Little Assawoman Bay.

“In years past, we were well up in to the hundreds of units. A measurement of 104 is the cutoff for swimming, and the last two reports were under 100. The Wednesday report was 10,” he emphasized, to a chorus of “wows” from those in attendance at the meeting. “Something’s improving, but we’re not sure what,” he added.

Weistling also reported on a recent meeting with a technology expert on improving technology use in the town. Burke said the speaker had talked about scanning town documents, cloud computing, use of tablet computers and social media, and updating the town web site. Tingle said they had also discussed having learning sessions for the community in the future, such as sessions on how to access social networking sites, and about getting the online community active with the town.