FIPD looks at aquatic expansion

The geography of Fenwick Island, situated between the Assawoman Bay, Atlantic Ocean and a state line to the south, distinguishes it from surrounding towns. It also poses an issue for the town’s police force – an issue that Police Chief William Boyden is now trying to overcome.

He has been assembling letters from area officials in support of a grant that could help the department acquire a watercraft for policing the bays.

“The funding I’m looking for,” Boyden noted, “is an earmarked grant. I’ve been trying to find funding that wouldn’t cost the town any money.”

The proposal for the grant would solicit federal funding to cover costs of the equipment and provide for three years of its operation.

Given the shallow depth of most of the Assawoman Bay, Boyden has his sights set on an 18-foot policing vessel with a 6-inch draft for easy maneuverability.

“The Assawoman is notorious for being shallow in areas,” he said. “With a boat like this one, we’d be able to get around, even at low tide.” The cost for the purchase and initial maintenance of the vessel would run around $40,000.

If the grant is awarded and the boat joins the FIPD, Fenwick Island would be the only police department in Sussex County with a watercraft.

“[The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control] has one boat at the Indian River Inlet,” Boyden observed, “but that’s the problem. To get a boat from there all the way down here, you need a trailer. The canal from the inlet to Fenwick Island is too shallow.”

The City of Wilmington, Delaware City and New Castle County departments are currently the only law enforcement organizations in the state with aquatic vessels.

“Those groups can get funding for their boats through Homeland Security,” said Boyden. “It’s not that easy for us. The bay down here is primarily for recreational purposes.”

While the Coast Guard and some local fire departments also have watercrafts, accessibility, or rather the lack thereof, in Fenwick Island could drastically increase response time, a factor Boyden would like to keep to a minimum. Primary responsibilities would include assisting boaters who become stuck or otherwise require assistance.

“People run out of gas and get lost out on the bay year-round,” he said. “It happens a lot more than you realize.”

The Fenwick Island Police Department would also use the boat to take pre-storm assessments and assist with storm damage and recovery.

The FIPD’s marine division would patrol all canals in town and bulkheads. The town charter gives the department authority to respond to calls up to a mile outside town borders, and boat access in the canal could prove beneficial in particular responses.

The boat would remain in the water in the Assawoman Bay year-round. Areas beyond the ocean’s surf are outside of Fenwick Island’s jurisdiction, so, Boyden noted, the vessel would never have to travel into the ocean.

“If we can get this boat,” he added, “we’d have first aid equipment and defibrillator. We can accompany fire departments, as well.”

Boyden has already looked into training officers, pending the approval of the grant and the acquisition of a watercraft.

“There are several places we could train our officers at no cost to the town,” he said. “There’s a marine unit in Wilmington and one in Virginia Beach that have both offered training for our staff. DNREC also offers additional assistance in training.”

Boyden has already garnered support from DNREC, the Sussex County Council and the Delaware State Police. A few more agencies are being sought out for their support, including the Center for the Inland Bays, before the proposal is sent out for the grant.