Stormwater management is coming to the forefront of environmental concerns and municipal affairs, and there may be no grandfather clause for Fenwick Island property owners.
The Town Council this week approved the first reading of a proposed stormwater management ordinance, which could require people to disconnect roof drainage downspouts, among a number of other measures.
Downspouts are pipes that connect to rooftop rain gutters, controlling the stream of stormwater down to the ground. Downspouts on all new construction and improvements to existing structures in Fenwick Island are prohibited from extending beyond the front or rear setbacks of the property or being located too close to the side property line.
However, on some properties, downspouts now lead directly to underground pipes that drain through bulkheads straight into the Little Assawoman Bay.
Under the new ordinance existing pipes may no longer connect from buildings to other pipes. Those in violation must have the situation corrected within three years of the adoption of the ordinance. All other sections of the code are to be enforced immediately.
The existing pipes may remain, but they must disconnect at the ground level.
“All they have to do is disconnect,” said Councilmember Bill Weistling.
Weistling said the intent of the ordinance is to allow stormwater from roofs to at least hit the ground area – whether it be grass or stone – giving the water a chance to percolate before draining away.
Currently, the town code states that standing water must drain either to a lagoon or an adjacent street, but not onto an adjacent property. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control now discourages that, said Patricia Schuchman, Fenwick Island’s building official, as it allows toxins to sweep directly into the watershed without filtering through the ground.
Weistling said the proposal started in the Ordinance Committee, with a recommendation from the Environmental Committee to not allow downspouts to directly drain into the town’s canals.
During discussions, the committee noted that a vacant lot in town has no vegetation, so the silt is noticeably eroding into the bay.
“Actually, it was just in-house,” Weistling said. “We just decided that while we were addressing this, that we would try to address any issue, rather than just specifically the downspouts. So we did try to hit the problem areas – primarily with erosion and drains down into the canals.”
Councilmember Vicki Carmean said the State of Delaware is pushing for stormwater management, and the South Bethany area has received grant money for such programs.
“It’s hard to retrofit a whole town, you know, so that everything is perfect, but it’s coming,” Carmean said.
Schuchman said new drainage requirements will soon be part of the town’s flood insurance discount through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We have a terrible drainage problem,” said Mayor Audrey Serio. “I mean, terrible.”
Councilmember Todd Smallwood mentioned South Bethany’s program to control stormwater in highway medians.
“They’re doing something that’s more worthwhile than just disconnecting drainage pipes,” Councilmember Diane Tingle said.
“It’s a trial program, and they’re getting a lot of grant money for doing it,” Carmean said. “And it may not solve the problem completely, but you just take little steps … and I think eventually we might be eligible for some of that [funding].”
“I still have a problem with how it’s going to be enforced,” Tingle said. “I know [Schuchman] is going to have to visit every house every year, and then they have three years to do it, and then she’ll have to check.”
Tingle also said some houses are very close to the property’s edge or have no setbacks: “And the water will still run in the bay, unless they know what to do when the water runs down. … That water will rot your bulkhead if you don’t put it someplace. … There’s gonna be other problems. So I just think we need to investigate this a little further to go ahead and really make it worthwhile.”
Serio suggested speaking with a professional, to ensure the ordinance is the right choice, especially with a fine attached for violators.
Tingle said the ordinance was fine for new houses, but she was concerned about older people who have a bulkhead and did not build with setbacks.
“I just think they need to be educated. And I know the Environmental Committee has a lot of people, but there’s a lot more houses than people that are on the committee.”
“Some people just aren’t cognizant of the problems,” Serio concluded.
The council approved the first reading of the surface and stormwater management ordinance in a 5 to 2 vote. Carmean, Gene Langan, Serio, Smallwood and Weistling were in favor. Gardner Bunting and Tingle voted against it.
The proposal will become law if the town council approves the second reading at their regular meeting Dec. 2.
Wesitling later said he did not know how many properties are currently in out of compliance with the propose regulation on downspouts.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot. Otherwise, there would have been a lot more discussion,” he said. “You can see them by looking in the back yard across the canal. … I did not see a whole lot of them.”
Originally, the committee discussed requiring removal of all underground piping but decided against it because of the costly, extensive work required.
Weistling said he had received no citizen feedback as yet, and he noted that the Charter and Ordinance Committee had barely discussed the proposal, as of the Nov. 1 committee meeting.
Other major sections of Ordinance 120-2 (Surface and Storm Water Management on Private Property) include:
• All lots, both vacant and those improved with structures, shall have grass, vegetation or stone that prevents soil erosion into streets, waterways and adjacent properties, unless such lots are under construction.
• Siltation fencing must be provided from construction activities that create the possibility of soil erosion.
• Town rights-of-way must remain clear for proper drainage.
• Pervious surface materials are required outside of the buildable lot area, to reduce water runoff and maintain proper drainage.
• Drainage of swimming or wading pool water not directly into a sanitary sewer shall only occur after the water sits for a minimum of seven days without the addition of any more chemicals.
Fines for non-compliance were also added and amended. The full ordinance can be obtained at Fenwick Island Town Hall.
In other Fenwick Island news:
• The Town Council met Oct. 25 to review town manager applications. The top applicants are being contacted for interviews in early November.
• Since solar panels at Town Hall were turned on in mid-August, the town has already saved $653 in electricity bills compared to 2010. In 2010, the town spent $940 in August and $669 in September. In 2011, prices decreased to $509 in August and $466 in September. Energy reports will be available at regular Town Council meetings.
• Tom Wontorek, interim town manager, requested clarification on the council’s intention for Mobi-Mats implementation. Due to the beach access mats’ popularity at Bayard, Dagsboro, Georgetown and King streets, Wontorek said, people have requested them at another three or four streets. He described the effort required to store the mats during storms and winter: Public Works must collect mats from each street, remove rocks and debris, clean the mats in the parking lot, wrap them and store them in the garage.
He asked if the town intends to purchase more mats or keep the current mats for reasonable handicapped-accessible locations. Serio said the decision will come at budget time, if extra funds are available. She noted that more mats will equal more maintenance. Bunting said the next budget meeting should be scheduled within the next few weeks, and the council can research state grants.
Carmean also pointed out that street work and the public safety building are priorities.
On multiple occasions, councilmembers have expressed a desire to purchase additional Mobi-mats, but they said the mats would not have been possible without grant money.
• Criminal arrests were up, from zero in July, to three in August and six in September. Chief William Boyden said these were primarily from assisting the Delaware State Police or finding drugs in automobiles during routine vehicle stops. Fenwick is lucky to have had no residential or commercial burglaries, he said, because surrounding communities and the Route 54 corridor have been “inundated” with commercial burglaries.
Also, the town speed radar unit was sent away for warranty-related repairs and was expected back in one or two weeks.
• During public comments, Lynn Andrews noticed that, and asked why, parking tickets have decreased in number. In July, 57 tickets were issued, with 35 in August and 20 in September. Smallwood suggested that newly painted roads show where people can or cannot park, which results in fewer tickets.
Andrews said she still sees violators without tickets, and she asked if the town has considered placing an officer on a bicycle to enforce parking regulations. Serio replied that the extra manpower was not worth the parking ticket revenue.
• Carmean reported that the Environmental Committee hopes to address landscaping around highway medians and the town sign. Coastal Highways is the town’s main street, but since major landscaping in 2003, she said little upkeep appears to have been done. Many plants have either died or grown out of their original design, she said.
The Environmental Committee would follow several steps: examine the current plants; discuss landscaping suggestions with the town manager and local landscapers; obtain work approval from the State of Delaware; and eventually use native plants in the design.
Carmean also said the Lions Club was hoping to plant a tree, so she asked them to consider replacing one in the median that has broken.
• The annual Turkey Trot is scheduled for Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 24, at 8 a.m. The 2-mile charity run is free for participants, Smallwood said. Participants are asked to bring a new pet item to donate to Safe Haven Animal Rescue. A Turkey Trot T-shirt sale will benefit Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse. The event concludes at Pottery Place, where people can socialize and enjoy coffee and oatmeal.
• The 2012 Fenwick Freeze will be Sunday, Jan. 1, at 10:30 a.m., and will continue to be a major fundraiser benefiting Fenwick Island lifeguards and their competition fund. According to organizer Becca McWilliams, the summer bonfire raised more than $4,000, which sponsored participants at lifeguard competitions, a summer bootcamp, end-of-the-year recognition and Freeze T- shirts.
• The next regular Town Council meeting is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 2, at 3:30 p.m.