White joins South Bethany planners

He may have lost his bid for a seat on the South Bethany town council this year, but Chris White succeeded in raising his profile in the town to the point where he became an appointee to one of the town’s other high offices.

Mayor Gary Jayne appointed White to the South Bethany Planning Commission at the council’s Aug. 11 meeting, receiving unanimous support for the appointment from the five other council members present. (Bonnie Lambertson was absent.)

In making the successful appointment, Jayne noted that he still needed one additional person to replace outgoing members of the commission. He said he was working on one prospect and hoped to have another appointment for the council to vote on at their September meeting.

It was a banner day for the commission, as Council Member John Fields reported to those present that the town’s comprehensive plan had finally been officially accepted by the state, after months of additional work from commissioners to meet a laundry list of requests from state agencies.

The plan had originally been drafted and believed by town officials to have been accepted by the state, only to have them discover more recently that it was never formally approved. So Fields and the commissioners put special emphasis on addressing all the areas noted by state agencies and completed their new draft early this summer.

It was quickly approved by the council and was formally certified by the state on July 14, with five years before an updated plan is due.

Notably, commissioners drafted the comprehensive plan without assistance from the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration or other consultants, saving many thousands of dollars compared to what other municipalities have spent on developing their plans. The lack of plans to annex nearby unincorporated areas and a minimum of public services enabled them to draft a comparatively simple plan for the town’s future development.

“Our challenge now is to live by it,” Fields said in announcing the certification.

Illegal fireworks a problem

Reporting on July’s activities for the South Bethany Police Department, Officer Joshua P. Rowley noted ongoing complaints about illegal fireworks. (All types of fireworks are illegal in Delaware, year-round, except for permitted agricultural uses.)

Rowley said that while efforts to curtail use of illegal fireworks had been deemed “rather successful” during the Fourth of July holiday — partially due to rainy conditions — the police department had been plagued with calls since then about a wide array of fireworks being fired from the town’s beaches and yards, as well as nearby areas of state and privately controlled beach.

Councilwoman Marge Gassinger noted a call to the vicinity of her own home for the illegal activity in recent days. But in that case, as in nearly all others, Rowley said he’d arrived within minutes only to discover that the perpetrators had already fled the scene. “They see us coming,” he told her.

Gassinger said she was particularly concerned about the fire danger to wooden-framed homes that could additionally be unoccupied at the time a fireworks-sparked blaze occurred. She particularly asked whether the South Bethany police had authority to arrest those firing pyrotechnics over homes inside the town from outside town limits.

Rowley acknowledged that SBPD authority was limited in those cases. He said that without direct permission from the 911 call center in Georgetown, SBPD officers were not permitted to go onto the state-controlled beach and enforce Delaware’s strict fireworks ban. Such permission had never been given for that purpose, he said.

In cases involving the state-controlled beach, Rowley said, those witnessing illegal use of fireworks should either call 911 or call the SBPD directly to get the ball rolling faster with other authorities.

Rowley said that often Delaware State Police were called but that they were rarely able to respond and usually passed on the calls to the state park authorities, who have clear jurisdiction over the state-controlled beach at South Bethany’s southern border. Further, he noted, the single park ranger for the whole area is generally assigned to the campground at the Indian River Inlet and only rarely responds in any reasonable time to such complaints.

That leaves the SBPD and the citizens of the town in a difficult spot regarding the enforcement of the fireworks ban. Rowley noted further problems because some attempting to use fireworks on South Bethany’s beaches had been incorrectly told that they could be legally used in neighboring Middlesex Beach, a private community.

That is, in fact, not the case, Rowley emphasized. But he said the statement might have been made with the understanding that a state police response was unlikely and that SBPD officers did not have jurisdiction.

In 2004, according to the National Fire Protection Association, five people died and an estimated 9,600 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries across the U.S. About 40 percent of those injured were children 14 or younger. Some 72 percent of the injured were males. Five out of six of the injuries were by fireworks permitted under federal regulations (though not in Delaware).

Fireworks-related property damages in 2003 were estimated at $55 million, from some 2,300 structure and vehicle fires.

Among other notable SBPD activity in July, which Rowley called “a month of accidents”: the seizure of 400 cans of beer from under-age drinkers during a traffic stop on July 1; an international student worker slightly injured while riding a bicycle on Route 1, when she collided with a car; an accident that killed a mentally altered man who drove north on southbound Route 1; and another accident involving a drunk driver traveling the wrong way down Ocean Drive.

Responding to citizen inquiries, Rowley confirmed that a registered high-level sex offender living temporarily in the town, with a relative, had officially been transferred to the oversight of Maryland authorities with his official change of residence to that state. But Rowley acknowledged that the man could potentially return to the town to visit his relative in the future, without a requirement to notify neighbors.

Rowley also noted the functional loss of the town’s “speed trailer,” which visibly measures drivers’ speeds as they approach it. For the second time in recent memory the trailer was struck, this time causing a battery failure that destroyed all the electronics inside.

Rowley said the SBPD was pursuing having the electronics repaired but might have to consider a new type of device as the current one was no longer being manufactured. He said the SBPD suspected a drunk driver had hit the trailer between 5 and 6 a.m. one morning.

Also at the Aug. 11 South Bethany Town Council meeting:

• Residents expressed interest in joining a potential residential electric power cooperative being organized by an Ocean View resident, with follow-up planned by the town’s property owners’ association;

• Citizens questioned how much meeting and agenda notice was required of the town, noting that council meetings are not the subject of legal advertising in local newspapers. Former Councilman Bob Cestone clarified that the town is not required to advertise such meetings, which are regularly scheduled and have their agendas posted at the town hall.

• There was praise for the speediness of response to recent code-enforcement complaints.

• Residents expressed concern over a recent shift in the color of water in the town’s canals. Jayne noted a “greenish tint” and said it was something fairly new. But he said the town had discussed water quality with the Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) and was going to do as much as it was able to do, with a meeting planned between the town, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and CIB, to work on addressing related issues, such as stormwater flow from Route 1 into the canals. The town advises against swimming in the canals due to known pollution levels and has repeatedly requested that property owners avoid allowing grass clippings to enter the canals.

• In his mayor’s report, Jayne thanked the property owners’ association for the recent publication of the town phone book, calling the book “a real asset to the city.” He also reported attendance at an emergency management summit and thanked the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce for its annual donation of $500 to help continue lifeguard coverage after Labor Day.

• Citizens were asked to turn out for the annual Coastal Cleanup on Sept. 16.

• Town Manager Melvin Cusick reported that the town’s transportation enhancement funding for the York Road walkway had been restored, with bidding for the project to open Sept. 8 and a bid to be awarded Sept. 28.

• Councilman and Treasurer John Rubinsohn reported $176,742 in income for the month of July, with $162,176 in expenses. The town’s reserve balance is approximately $2.538 million.

• Rubinsohn also reported that permits had been issued for the planned Assawoman Canal dredge, though the Sierra Club still has a case pending with the state Supreme Court to block the dredging. Rubinsohn said DNREC’s attorneys had told the agency to proceed with work to clear the canal bank, with the expectation to complete the northern portion of the dredge (north of Route 26) before the December close of the four-month dredging season. Work on the southern portion is planned to begin in September 2007.

• Beach replenishment efforts continued in South Bethany and Bethany Beach — the only sections of municipal beach remaining to be reconstructed. Town officials are hoping massive response from property owners, residents and visitors via the towns’ Web sites will help bring federal funds that could finally get the project under way. Some $14 million is needed before work can start. So far, some $3.3 million has been allocated, from 2005, with approximately $3 million additional in some versions of 2006 federal funding bills that have yet to be finalized.

• On behalf of the Beautification Committee, Maintenance Supervisor Don Chrobot reported on landscaping efforts. He noted that the town had taken a different tack from neighboring Bethany Beach in planning low-maintenance, native plantings that, while less colorful, could do without built-in irrigation and would also serve to help deal with pollution and stormwater concerns.

Chrobot said an autumnal post-game analysis of the plantings would yield plans for any fine-tuning for next year. The efforts he and his crew have put into the project so far yielded a strong round of applause from those in attendance at the meeting.

• Jayne reported a near-victory. He said he had almost been able to report the securing of permits for the town’s canal dredge at the Aug. 11 meeting but a last-minute glitch had thwarted that. That announcement, he said, will likely take place at the council’s September meeting, with the glitch ironed out.

• It was slightly better news on the town hall/police department front, with Gassinger reporting that the town engineer had just been informed that the soil conservation approval for the site plan had been given. Bids for the project are now expected to go out in September and be returned in October.

• The town’s tidal pump project will also be going out to bid this month for work to verify the concept of the project and estimate its cost.

• Finally, Councilman Jay Headman reported very similar results from the June 2006 Cat Hill traffic study to those obtained in October 2005. Average speeds remained around 20 mph, down from 23 mph, with most traveling below 15 mph, down from 19 mph. Headman said the study’s conclusion was that the was no real speeding problem in the community.

There has been an upswing in the amount of traffic, however, with a daily average of 701 cars, versus the 2002 statistic of 481. Jayne said he would be interested in seeing the results of future studies that might reflect the pressure on the streets from new and planned developments.