South Bethany contracts for engineers-of-record

The last time many of South Bethany’s town council members saw Bob Stickels, he was the Sussex County administrator. But on Feb. 8, Stickels was in South Bethany to offer the town the services of his new employers, engineering firm George, Miles and Buhr LLC (GMB).

Town Manager Mel Cusick acknowledged that the town had no responsibility for water or sewer service, that its streets were in good shape, that it has no annexation plans and no major projects in the making, but in introducing Resolution 1-07, he said the town could find having an “engineer of record” useful were it to be hit by a major storm, such as one that might do major damage to Ocean Drive.

In such a case, Cusick said, having GMB as the town’s engineer-of-record could mean that specifications for re-engineering the road would be available more quickly, with the engineers basically “on call” to help the town out in a time of need.

In the GMB proposal, there is no “contract,” nor is the firm on retainer with the town. Indeed, no monies would change hands until the town decided to have work done, and even then, council would be required to approve any expenditure above $5,000.

Stickels told council members that the agreement between the town and GMB would not even feature exclusivity, since such an arrangement is not permitted in Delaware. The town could choose another engineer for any single project or dismiss the agreement altogether, at will.

But, on the positive side for the town — and the firm — the town would have a relationship with GMB akin to that of a long-time customer with a professional such as an attorney or plumber, Stickels said. They would get “preferential treatment” from GMB whenever they might need to make that call for help.

Stickels described the firm’s credentials, including similar contracts with Seaford, Lewes, Laurel, and other towns in Maryland, as well as the selling point of the recent decision of the Henlopen Acres community to make a similar agreement after extensive study.

GMB is also currently working as a subcontractor on the new town hall and police station project for South Bethany, he noted. And the Village of Five Points he described as a GMB project from start to finish, under the auspices of Gemcraft Homes.

Stickels noted his own experience with the town, standing on Ocean Drive during the 1990s, when it was almost completely gone after a devastating storm. He also mentioned work on sewer laterals when the town added county-run sewer service, as well as EPA mitigation for sewer cutoffs – all resulting in great familiarity with the town.

GMB has strong record in the area

GMB engineer Charles O’Donnell referenced his firm’s 47 years of experience in the area. “We’re going to be here for you, whether you call next week or 20 years from now.”

O’Donnell said the firm had some 135 people on its staff, including 25 professional engineers who specialize in a variety of fields, and 30 more engineers in training. Even with other clients having GMB as engineers of record, he said, the firm was large enough to guarantee a quick response, if the town ever needed it. They were on-call 24/7, he said.

Looking to work that the firm might do for the town in the future, O’Donnell noted the ongoing wish of much of the town to bring its utilities underground. They’d done work to organize the move to underground utilities in Lewes’ Second Street revitalization, he said. And Lewes also had the benefit of GMB developing a street maintenance spreadsheet that Stickels said would be beneficial in trying to justify the need for suburban street aid monies in a time of increasing demand on municipal street aid funds.

Council members were sold on the notion of an engineer-of-record, but several were reluctant to commit to GMB on the spot Thursday night.

Councilman Jay Headman asked why the town hadn’t done a full, open search to guarantee they were hiring the best possible engineer at the most inexpensive rates available. “Knowing the situation we are in,” he said, referring to the decrease in transfer taxes coming into the town, they should be making an effort to find the best deal.

Cusick noted that the proposed resolution had come to the council as a result of GMB and Stickels’ initiative with a proposal for the agreement. And Mayor Gary Jayne said he felt GMB’s credentials were strong enough not to need a comparison. “They have a lot of experience at being the engineers-of-record for towns up and down the coast,” he said. “They have experience with the town, and their rates are in line,” he added.

Councilman Richard Ronan noted that the town had hired Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork as a result of making phone calls about interest in the job, experience and rates. Headman said he would prefer a similar process for the engineering post. Councilman John Rubinsohn said some checking could be done simply by calling other towns for information on their engineers.

But Jayne said the town was legally allowed to simply choose an engineering firm under the category of “professional services” and that he believed the work involved in the research was more than the council could take on right now, with many other issues on its plate. Jaywork had OK’d the move, he said.

Ronan emphasized that the town could drop the agreement at any time, basically making their risk nothing if they moved ahead. Cusick referred to the process through which Henlopen Acres had chosen GMB in recent months, implying the town could take advantage of their work without needing to repeat it. And Jayne again noted the firm’s past work with the town, as well as the subcontracting work going on currently.

Council members appeared swayed on the issue. With minor changes pending at the suggestion of Jaywork, the agreement was to be ready to vote upon and signed at the council’s regular meeting on Friday, Feb. 9.

With Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson absent, the council cast a 6-0 vote to sign the agreement with GMB. Former Councilman Lloyd Hughes referenced some past problems with GMB during discussion of the issue, but Jayne said that was long in the past and involved different people than those who were at GMB now.

“We’re very confident, very satisfied,” he said. “I’ve talked with the other towns.” It was enough to secure the unanimous vote.

Also at the Feb. 9 council meeting:

• Council members and citizens gave approval to the wording “South Bethany, Cat Hill entrance” for a sign to be placed by the Cat Hill entrance to the town.
Cusick noted arrangements to hold council meetings from May through possibly September a
• Ocean View Town Hall, due to the construction of the new town hall. Bethany Beach, though closer, was ruled out due to summer parking concerns, he said. Meetings in March and April should be held in South Bethany, if construction goes as expected. The work so far has included tree removal on the site, with the existing police trailer to be removed and water and sewer hooked up in the near future.
• Jayne reported that the town’s canal dredge project was likely to begin around Nov. 1, with a preliminary report recently received from the town engineers as part of the design-build project.
• Gassinger made an appeal to property owners, residents and other local folks to bring in photos and other memorabilia reflecting the town’s history for a possible display once the new town hall is built.
• Planning Commissioner George Junket reported ongoing work regarding curbside recycling in the town, on a model being developed for Fenwick Island, with no action likely to be taken until later in the spring. Junket also noted “a great deal of progress” being made with a working group at the Center for the Inland Bays regarding the Sussex County land-use plan update.
• Headman reported that those working on the town’s tidal pump project had received their first report from Oceaneering on Feb. 8 and were due to review it and respond as the firm continues its work to determine the potential costs of the project and confirm computer models of its effectiveness.
• Police Chief Joe Deloach presented a citation to Lt. Linda O’Malley for her work on a house fire in recent weeks. He said O’Malley had discovered the fire while on routine patrol and alerted firefighters. “If she had not been on patrol that night, one home would have been completely destroyed and another severely damaged,” he said. O’Malley said she suspected the Anchorage • Road fire could have been caused by sparks from a neighboring chimney that perhaps fell into pine needles.
• O’Malley reported on police action from the prior month, including an incident on Jan. 22 in which a female juvenile had been approached by a “suspicious person.” The girl reported that incident to her mother, who notified police, but police were unable to locate the man that day or on future searches and it was unclear whether a crime had been committed, O’Malley said.
• Rubinsohn reported $218,000 in revenue and $101,000 in expenses for January, with $2.77 million in the town’s interest accounts at the end of the month.
• Cusick said he had contacted the town’s water tower maintenance company regarding peeling paint on the tower and possible need for repainting. He said he was awaiting a response. He also clarified that recent notification regarding flood mitigation funding being available to individual home owners to raise their homes was required of the town, even if money might not be currently available. It may be available again in the near future.
• Officials made note of recent efforts to improve crossovers across Route 1 to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. As part of state work to resurface the road, there will be crossovers wherever pedestrians might be likely to cross, with a level asphalt surface that will be treated with a faux-brick finish. Existing bricks are to be saved for future town use, Cusick said.