County puts 'adequate public facilities' ordinance on hold

Sussex County Council has removed from consideration an ordinance designed to deal with whether approval of development must go hand-in-hand with having adequate public facilities to serve such projects.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver on Sept. 13 asked to withdraw her introduction of an “adequate public facilities” ordinance, even though she has pressed for such an ordinance to be adopted for much of her time in office.

The council initially pulled the ordinance from discussion in order to schedule a hearing before the county Planning & Zoning Commission, which council members and staff said they felt should happen prior to consideration by the council itself, since the issue would heavily involve the P&Z. The change would allow P&Z to consider the issues involved on their own, prior to council discussion, and provide their input to the council.

A hearing had been set for Sept. 20 before the council. That is now to be rescheduled for sometime after P&Z has held it own hearing.

Deaver also noted on Tuesday that she had been told the County could not schedule a public workshop on the proposed ordinance, ahead of those public hearings, because council procedure requires that any workshops be held prior to formal introduction of an ordinance, which she had already made.

Councilman George Cole said the procedure had come at the recommendation of the county’s legal counsel, owing to the potential for council members to jeopardize their ability to hear cases or related ordinances later when there had been an opportunity for pre-judging an issue during a workshop.

“So, no councilperson should go to a meeting and say they won’t vote for that ordinance until it’s heard?” Deaver asked, receiving an affirmative reply.

Deaver then moved to withdraw her ordinance, so that a workshop could be scheduled and an ordinance then introduced and public hearings scheduled before the council and P&Z. She suggested the council set a 60-day timeframe in which to hold the workshop, but even a suggested 90-day timeframe failed to garner a council majority.

The council voted unanimously to withdraw the ordinance so that a workshop can be held. The timeframe for that workshop was not set.

County prepares transportation requests ahead of hearing

Also on Sept. 13, outgoing County Administrator David Baker noted that county staff had revised the County’s capital transportation program requests ahead of a scheduled Sept. 15 hearing in Georgetown at which such requests will be heard by State officials.

That hearing was set for 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, at the DelDOT South District Administration Building, 23697 DuPont Boulevard in Georgetown.

Baker said the requests had been revised based on comments at the prior council meeting and on input from the public.

Topping the priority list are improvements to the east-west corridors in the county; evacuation routes; airport facilities; bicycle and walking trails; highway improvements, including improvements to Route 1 specifically and widening of Route 24 to four lanes from Long Neck Road to Route 1 (a larger area than originally requested); improvements to address flooding; local roads improvements; signage and signalization improvements; and alternative transportation.

Baker said the County was placing a high priority on moving proposed improvements to Route 113 from concept to reality, expressing concerns about the time and money spent on planning versus actually making improvements to the road. He also noted concerns about safety issues in the Five Points area of Route 1, as well as needs for improved interconnectivity between commercial areas along Route 1, as well as Routes 13 and 113.

Cole specifically requested county staff recommend additional signage along Routes 5 and 30 from Milford to Long Neck, noting they are used as local bypass routes.

However, Councilman Sam Wilson said he didn’t think improvements to such roads were necessarily a good idea.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to improve the local roads,” he said, “because it’s bad enough the city people use the highways. The local people don’t need congestion on local roads.”

Cole said he also believed the State should be putting focus on improving use of alternative transportation, to better utilize the state’s bus system.

Council hears report on Hurricane Irene response

Incoming County Administrator Todd Lawson offered council members a detailed report on the County’s response to Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27 and 28.

“Many people would agree we dodged the big one,” Lawson said of the storm, which fell from Category 3 strength to Category 1 strength after landfall in North Carolina and ahead of a first-ever hurricane landfall in Delaware.

“But we had coastal erosion, flooding, property damage and a confirmed F1 tornado near Lewes,” he noted, while emphasizing that no lives had been lost.

“The staff rose to the occasion, and they should be commended,” he said.

Lawson said a record number of individuals had accessed County information through its Web site and social media outlets. Some 26,000 people visited the county’s storm information page on its Web site, while the County’s evacuation map was downloaded some 8,000 times. Previously, Lawson said, the County’s top download had been the list of its top 100 delinquent taxpayers, eliciting chuckles from council members and staff.

Lawson noted that County emergency services staff – and some volunteers – had dealt with a potential secondary disaster on the Friday evening prior to Irene’s arrival, when the Emergency Operations Center was notified that shelters might run out of food before Saturday morning.

“A team was assembled to purchase food at the Georgetown Wal-mart, which was the only store that was open,” he said. That team – Baker; his wife, Sandy; and Council President Michael Vincent’s wife, Elaine – had then purchased enough food supplies (on Mrs. Baker’s credit card, he noted) to replenish the shelters, and a team of county workers had met them at the storm and delivered the food to the shelters.

“Mrs. Baker has been our personal chef during past emergencies,” Vincent noted on Tuesday, suggesting she might have to stay on to cook during future emergency, even as Baker retires.

EOC Director Joseph Thomas said the three – and later, four – shelters operated by the Red Cross during the mandatory evacuation of coastal and bayside communities had served nearly 15,000 people.

With the concerns about food supplies and the move to open a fourth shelter, Cole asked how the County would accommodate the need for shelter in the event of a true disaster.

“How many could we accommodate?” he asked.

“The Red Cross was prepared to open up many more,” Thomas said – particularly, he said, to address whatever need might exist after a storm.

“A lot of people, with this mandatory evacuation, didn’t evacuate,” Cole noted. “I can only imagine what we would do if they did evacuate.”

While local municipalities and non-profits will be looking in coming days to apply for federal reimbursement of hurricane-related expenses, Thomas said individual property owners will likely have to rely upon their insurance, if they had it.

“It looks like there was not enough damage related to private property to get individual assistance,” he said. “If it had come in like it was forecasted, we probably would have,” he added.

Vincent also took the time on Tuesday to note Lawson’s recent on-the-job training in handling disasters.

“We have a new administrator in training,” he said, “and he’s had more exposure in the last 30 days than most people have had in 20 years.” Vincent particularly noted the experience of the area having had its first-ever hurricane, catastrophic flooding, tornado and earthquake in the space of less than two weeks.

Council accepts more than $1M in airport-related grants

The council on Sept. 13 also voted to accept two grants from the FAA, related to the county airport.

Airport Manager Jim Hicken said a grant of $723,000 would go toward the design of the planned 500-foot extension of a runway at the airport, which will help it accommodate larger aircraft and, potentially, more air traffic.

The grant is designs to help bring the airport up to FAA standards by removing obstructions (mostly trees) and realigning the runway to comply clearance requirements over nearby railroad tracks, as well as design of the extension and the associated taxiway and an overlay of the existing runway, and an approach lighting system.

The design project is expected to cost $762,000, with 95 percent of that cost to be covered by the FAA grant.

The County has also been offered a $514,000 grant for wetlands mitigation, to help it mitigate wetlands it disturbed five years ago at the airport. The mitigation will fund construction of wetlands on more than 9 acres of County-owned property on Route 54 near Selbyville. The project cost is estimated at $541,000, with 95 percent being paid by the grant.

Asked about the distant location of the proposed wetlands project from the airport, Hicken explained that the FAA doesn’t allow the creation of wetlands near an airport, as it would draw wildlife, but the mitigation negotiations required that the new wetlands be created in the same watershed as those that were disturbed.

“It doesn’t make sense that it will have any value to anyone in any sense,” commented Cole on the location.

But Hicken said that the County had to perform the mitigation, regardless of the apparent usefulness of the project, as the EPA wouldn’t grant permits for the airport runway extension and other projects without the mitigation being performed. The County-owned property had been selected as the site.

Council members voted unanimously to approve accepting both airport-related grants.

They also unanimously approved a contract extension for the design of the runway extension. The project will happen in two phases, across two grant periods, to facilitate funding. But Hicken said it would be handled as one seamless construction project in order to improve cost effectiveness. He said consultant work on the contract had reduced the initial price estimate by 17 percent, to $762,000.

Also on Sept. 13:

? The council voted unanimously to authorize the issuance of up to $91 million in general obligation or wastewater revenue bonds to refund existing debt. County Finance Director Susan Webb explained that the process was the equivalent of refinancing a mortgage at a lower interest rate and would not change the principal of the debt involved.

Council members also welcomed the notion of offering the bonds to local investors, which has been done in the past.

? Webb also made a presentation to the council on a proposed move from a disability pension system for county employees to a tiered short-term and long-term disability system.

? The council approved the granting of $1,000 from Cole’s grant account for expenses from Millville’s Great Pumpkin Festival, which is set for Oct. 1 at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall.