Fenwick Island Town Council members voted 6-0 this week to approve a second reading of a zoning amendment that requires the anchoring of outdoor items in an effort to prevent safety hazards during flooding, after concerns were raised during the intense flooding seen in the town during Hurricane Sandy.
Immediately prior to the council’s April 26 meeting, they held a public hearing on the zoning amendment, seeking public comment before the council voted at the subsequent meeting. Resident Mike Quinn raised a number of issues at the hearing, expressing concern that too many things might be included in the phrasing of the ordinance that said the items required to be anchored “included but [were] not limited to” things such as propane tanks, trash container enclosures, boardwalks and sheds.
Quinn pointed out the large flower pots that the town’s beautification committee encouraged local businesses to use to help beautify the town, as well as soda machines, ice cream storage freezers, benches and even automated teller machines that he said are currently only anchored by a power cord. He suggested the ordinance go back to the town’s Charter & Ordinance Committee to be fine-tuned to deal with that issue of ambiguity.
But Councilwoman Vicki Carmean said she wanted the ordinance to move forward without delay, after seeing so many potentially dangerous items floating around during Sandy and left in neighbors’ yards and on public property afterwards.
“I’ve been waiting 10 years to get the propane tanks taken care of,” she said. “I want to get something on the books before something happens. I don’t want to move back that [effective] date.”
Carmean emphasized that the council could amend the new ordinance after it’s adopted, if fine-tuning is determined to be needed. But she said that the items specifically mentioned — boardwalks, ground-level decks, propane and other fuel tanks, trash enclosures and sheds — were items she had seen moved by flooding from Sandy. “I didn’t see flower pots and ATMs,” she added.
Praising Quinn for having made some good points, she reiterated that, “The things listed here are items like boardwalks and propane tanks that caused a great deal of concern and presented a real danger to the community.”
Charter & Ordinance Committee Chairman William “Bill” Weistling Jr. did propose an amendment to the proposed ordinance ahead of last Friday’s vote, adding a requirement that, in accordance with Delaware state code and the Underground Utility Damage & Safety Act, property owners must contact Miss Utility before proceeding with any anchoring, to avoid hitting any underground utility lines.
“It would not be pleasant to hit an underground electric line with a steel auger,” he said. “And it’s already required by state law. … We’ve specified in here what we really intended to anchor,” he added.
“I would like to have this on the books so it’s there,” Carmean said. “There are a lot of home owners who will replace missing boardwalks during the summer.”
Weistling noted that Building Inspector Patricia Schuchman had already been informing contractors about the pending requirements for anchoring and that a notice had been sent out to property owners about the ordinance. The requirement to anchor outdoor fuel tanks was to go into effect on June 1. The compliance date for the expanded ordinance is June 14.
Those who have outdoor fuel tanks exceeding 25 pounds were recommended to have their fuel provider anchor their tanks if the provider offers such a service, while FEMA recommendations for methods to anchor such tanks is also available online and through the Town.
Beach concessions awarded
The council on April 26 also approved beach concessions bids for the 2013 summer season, awarding the beach services (such chair and umbrella rentals) concessions contract for the incorporated town’s beaches to Steen’s Beach Service, which placed the only bid for the concession, at $13,200; and a food and beverage concession contract for the “state-line beach” from Atlantic to the Maryland state line only, to a high bidder from Severna Park, Md., that has experience in event food services and provided the service on the state-line beach last year, at $12,500.
Council members also discussed reinstating the town’s Parks & Recreation Committee, after having received a request from the friend of a former summer resident to honor that resident with a memorial bench. The previously dormant committee had been dissolved more than five years ago, but discussion of the proposal and a general policy for such requests may bring it back into play.
Carmean noted that, “Some people had strong feelings about putting benches up and down the street with people’s names on it,” during past discussions of the idea, though South Bethany has such benches along Route 1 in landscaped areas on the west side of the road.
Mayor Audrey Serio said town parks had been another area that was mentioned. “I think there are some things we could do within the town to provide people space for these benches,” she said, noting that she was not against the idea but felt the Town had to have “a plan in place” and then could get back to the person who made the initial request.
Quinn, though, said he felt that the dune crossing at Houston Street would be “a beautiful place” to put such a bench. Carmean said she felt the Town should develop a policy with input from the community. Weistling commented, “I had wondered, where do you draw the line? Is it first-come, first-served? It’s not like we have a lot of locations.”
The council this week also approved additional applications from the Town to be made for some upcoming grant awards.
Town Manager Merritt Burke pointed out that the bids for the town’s kayak dock for the new Cannon Street Park had come in $20,000 to $25,000 higher than anticipated, and he recommended the Town apply for an additional $20,000 amount on top of the Town’s existing matching grant from DNREC for the project, bringing the total budget to $70,000, half of which would come from the Town.
Council members would have to approve accepting the grant, if it is awarded to them. The project is to be rebid in mid-May and awarded at the end of the month, with a “wider net” being cast in an effort to try to bring down the bids.
Burke also recommended the council approve applying for an additional $5,000 surface-water planning grant in the current round of applications for the same grant it was recently awarded. This grant also has a 50/50 split between the Town and State of Delaware.
Burke said he hadn’t finalized his ideas for using the surface-water grants but would be looking at areas such as sea-level rise and vulnerability assessment, as intended for the previous grant. He said he would consult with the council before making a final determination of the planned project.
Burke also reported receiving a $5,000 Delaware homeland security grant to install stationary fuel tanks at town hall for emergency use by public works and police. A reinforced concrete pad will be constructed to support the two 500-gallon tanks, one of which will hold diesel and the other of which will hold gasoline. A PVC fence will enclose the tanks.
Finally, Burke reported the receipt of $47,000 in compensation to the Town for repair of damage and emergency needs during Hurricane Sandy.
The council also voiced unanimous approval for the most recent revisions to the manual for the Town’s beach patrol. FIBP Capt. Tim Ferry said the manual had last been updated in 2008 and had been reviewed to make sure the squad was still doing things needed not only for its U.S. Lifeguarding Association certification but to comply with Town policies and procedures.
He said council members had been solicited for their ideas and that a page-by-page review had addressed concerns about policy and personnel procedures. “We compromised and came up with something that worked for everybody,” he said.
Carmean commented, “I was most impressed with the recommendations for what lifeguards should do with themselves during a thunderstorm.”
Ferry reported that the purchase of a “side-by-side” vehicle had been completed, with options available for the beach patrol, police and public works personnel all to utilize it.
He also reported attending a rip-current workshop offered by the Delaware Sea Grant, NOAA and the National Weather Service, focusing on scientific data collection and prediction and forecasting, “to allow us to prepare better for these events.”
Ferry said the agencies were coming up with a system that would allow them to keep in touch with lifeguard patrol captains on a daily basis to ensure rip current conditions are reported for national newscasts, weather reports and the ticker on the Weather Channel.
“We’re looking for ways to inform the public. We hope that, seeing these warnings, people will ask the lifeguards more before going into water.”
Ferry said he had only needed to hire six new lifeguards for the 2013 summer season and had hired them at an earlier stage, allowing them to begin preparation for their work on the FIBP.
The Town’s lifeguard sponsorship program — offering advertising space on its lifeguard stands — was a success in its first year, Burke said, with $10,000 raised to date and 50 percent of the space still available.
The Town bonfire, with proceeds to benefit the beach patrol, is set for July 5, with a rain date of July 6, and details to be finalized in June.
New park open to the public, landscaping coming soon
Burke reported to the council that May 24 was the date that had been selected for landscaping work in the Cannon Street Park, with trees, shrubs and a rain garden to go in on that date. A privacy fence is set to be installed on May 13.
He said Public Works employees had placed trash cans in the park, along with the no-smoking signs to encourage compliance with the town’s new no-smoking policy for its beaches and parks. A picnic table was also in place, he said last Friday, emphasizing that the park was already technically open and available to the public for use.
Planned sidewalk improvements have been pushed to late summer or fall, Burke noted, after a town council request to do so. Replanting of the town’s medians has also been delayed until the fall, with a test patch in place in the Cannon Street median to give the Town an idea of what will survive in the unique ecosystem of the beach-side highway. Carmean said she hoped the council would approve funding for the full set of median plantings in the coming fiscal year’s budget.
Burke reported also that the town hall renovation work was nearly done, with hopes of having it wrapped up by Memorial Day weekend. He also noted that parking permits are now available to property owners and residents, with parking enforcement to begin May 15. He said preparations are also under way for the town’s August elections.
Public Works Supervisor Bryan Reed reported progress with getting DNREC working on the town’s beach crossings, noting “quite a few emails back and forth” between himself and DNREC officials that finally led to bulldozers arriving in the town two weeks ago. He said they had worked on a couple beach ends before leaving for another project and then returned early last week to continue the work.
Reed said the crossovers looked higher than normal at present — higher than the dunes in some areas, Carmean noted — but that he expected they would be “cleaned out” once snow/dune fence is put in place. The timeline he expected for completion of the work, he said, was about three weeks, with work ongoing in Dewey and Rehoboth and expected to move south.
Reed said he would prefer to hold off on putting out the Town’s accessibility-enhancing Mobi Mats over the dune crossings until that work was completed.
Reed also reported completion of the street drainage project on Bora Bora Street, which was successfully tested by rains two weeks ago. He said they were starting on work to spruce up the town park, including touching up faded shuffleboard mats, and would be working on signage and corrective striping for ocean-side parking after it was mis-marked after recent repaving.
Police Chief William Boyden reported a few complaints from residents about missing highway markers after recent work along Route 1. He said DelDOT staff had promised to replace missing items and enhance some others for pedestrian traffic safety, and that if anyone noticed anything missing or amiss, they should let Boyden know.
The council this week also presented a service award to FIPD Sgt. John Devlin, for 10 years of service to the town.
Volunteers needed to count some butts
The Environmental Committee appealed this week for volunteers to help members collect data in conjunction with the American Lung Association grants the Town received for its new no-smoking policy in the parks and on the beach. Members said the requirement to provide data on the success of the effort would mean counting cigarette butts, and that anyone interested in helping count the butts in the new receptacles every two weeks between June and September would be welcome.
A beach cleanup is also scheduled for the committee on May 18. And the committee is seeking a volunteer to take over weekly water quality testing from Buzz Henifin, who has retired from those duties. They said someone who lives right on the bay would be the ideal candidate for the job.
Councilman Gene Langan reported discussions amongst members of the Town’s new technology committee as to ways the Town can improve through technology, including ways to save energy; a “refresh” of the Town Web site; adding Twitter and YouTube presences; announcing rip currents via Twitter; cloud computing to keep Town documents in the “cloud”; use of tablet computers, such as iPads, to do away paper documents (already under way for some council members); and a recommendation to start using credit cards for parking and most other town fees and taxes, including charging a convenience fee to cover costs.
Langan said the group’s next meeting would include a presentation on the cloud, as well as possible discussion of a Town “app” that might allow visitors to use their mobile phones to buy parking passes, find an open parking space, find out ocean conditions and perhaps even tie in with local restaurants and allow them to order lunch. “We’re on the forefront,” he said.
Finally, during public participation, Quinn again raised the issue of apparent discrepancies in the Town’s monthly financial report, in which large amounts of money were unaccounted for in the report. But Burke and Councilman Gardner Bunting explained that the issue was caused by the pre-set transfer of the funds from one account to another and was detailed in a breakdown report which was offered to Quinn at the meeting.
“There is an audit trail,” Burke emphasized, offering Quinn the chance to consult with him on ways in which the monthly report could show the transfers.
Bunting reported that the Town was still within its planned budget, overall, with perhaps some small overages “on an item or two” but under budget on others. The new budget process is under way, with the next meeting planned for 1 p.m. on May 21 and expectations to have a draft budget completed in June.
Other upcoming dates of note in Fenwick Island include:
• The May 11 plant sale by the Barefoot Gardeners at the intersection of Route 1 and James Street;
• The planting of a rain garden by the Barefoot Gardeners and Center for the Inland Bays on May 24, with a rain date of May 31;
• Regular trash pickup shifting to Monday and Thursday each week, with a yard-waste pickup on May 2 and 16, and bulk trash collection May 28-30;
• An EMS open house at the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall on May 11;
• The May 18 beach cleanup; and
• A May 16 coffee event with state Sen. Gerald Hocker and state Rep. Ron Gray, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at town hall.