South Bethany awards municipal contracts

South Bethany is one step closer to a new town hall and police station, with the awarding of a contract for the project to DiSabatino Construction, Deputy Mayor Marge Gassinger reported at the town council’s Dec. 8 meeting.

Work on the nearly $1 million project was to begin immediately. Construction of the police station is to begin first, with town hall staff to vacate the existing town hall in favor of the existing police trailer structure once police have moved to their new building, possibly in April or May.

The wrecking ball will then swing on the current town hall structure, clearing the way for the new and improved town hall building.

The entire project is set to be completed by the first week of August, according to the contract. Gassinger, though, warned of a possible need for a little additional patience as construction can always be delayed by weather and other unpredictable factors.

Also on Dec. 8, Town Manager Melvin Cusick reported that the bulk of the work on the town’s new pedestrian walkway at York Road has been completed. Remaining to be done are the faux-brick patterning that will separate the pedestrian area from the roadway and plantings for the area, but the new walkway is now fully usable.

Cusick said weather had beaten both final elements of the project, with spring the only viable time for planting and winter too cold for the asphalt stamping process that will turn an 18-inch strip of pavement into an obvious dividing line between the walkway and roadway. He noted that the pavement impressions of the faux brick will produce both sound and sensation — notifying drivers with lapsing attention that they’ve strayed from the roadway.

The project was primarily paid for through state and federal grants, with only the portion beyond Carlisle Road paid for by the town.

South Bethany also got some sprucing up in recent weeks, though it will be a while before that work is apparent to most in the town. Councilman Richard Ronan reported that a team of 12 volunteers had braved sub-freezing temperatures for two hours on Dec. 5 to plant some 300 tulip bulbs that had been donated by the town’s property owners association. The multi-colored display should begin to pop up this spring.

Tidal pump study contract awarded

Council members on Dec. 8 also took the next step in investigating a possible tidal pump project that could help flush its canals. Councilman Jay Headman reported that two bids had been received by the town for an engineering consulting contract that would net a budgetary cost estimate study for the project.

Committee members reviewing the bids had weighed issues of qualifications and cost, Headman said, focusing on qualifications as a primary factor. They had unanimously recommended the higher of the two bids — $49,900 from Oceaneering International. On that basis, Headman suggested the council proceed to awarding the contract, contingent on town solicitor review.

The council had set a $50,000 cap on the cost for the study, with the other bid coming in at $44,000. The council unanimously agreed to award the contract to Oceaneering, on a 7-0 vote, with anticipation of work beginning within 90 days after the company is notified that the contract was awarded to it.

Officials eye county comp plan

South Bethany officials are also preparing to give input into the county’s planning process as the next update of the Sussex County comprehensive plan is begun. The council has assigned background work on the plan — and the town’s stance on related issues — to the Planning Commission.

Commissioner John Spears reported to council last week that he had met with Council Councilman George Cole, who represents the district that includes the town and who sits as the only controlled-growth proponent on the five-member body.

Spears said Cole had told him that few changes were expected to be made in the county’s existing comprehensive plan — not good news for the town or Cole, both of whom have expressed deep concern over the approvals of large developments on the eastern side of the county without related infrastructure support from the state.

Councilman John Fields, who serves as the commission’s liaison with the council and made the report on Spears’ behalf, said of Cole, “He’s one of the few people on county council who’s opposed to unfettered development.”

Cole told Spears that county councilmen planned to purposely keep language in the updated comprehensive plan as vague as possible, to give the council as much latitude as possible to interpret the plan’s intent when making future decisions.

Though public hearings on the plan are required by law, they have not yet been scheduled, and Cole said that could put the approval of an updated comp plan on a timetable for the fall of 2007.

Spears said Cole had advised that the town get a copy of the plan, familiarize themselves with it and give specific input to the county council during the public input phase of the update.

To Spears’ question about enlisting the support of the area’s Chambers of Commerce, the councilman reportedly said an inquiry might prove worthwhile. Though the Chamber of Commerce was previously known to be pro-growth, with a membership heavy with Realtors, Cole allowed that more recent — and growing — problems with gridlock might have resulted in a change of heart.

Just touching on the subject of development was enough to set Ronan on edge. “Except for George Cole, never a truer statement was made than the Sussex County Council never met a development they didn’t like.”

“My God! Don’t they have any feelings for the environment?” Ronan asked rhetorically, noting that many recently approved developments have been directly on the fringes of local wetlands.

“I read the papers, and it enrages me. They’re polluting the bays — period,” he stated emphatically. “I get the feeling we’re almost past the point of no return,” he added, predicting the council would on some future day be discussing ways to clean up the local bays after having approved development that contributed to polluting them.

Spears himself advised the town council to make an effort to get all of the towns in the county involved in controlled-growth efforts as the county drafts its new comprehensive plan, as well as the Chamber — “a coalition the county needs to listen to.”

Headman raised the possibility of getting SCAT involved in supporting such a stance, but Cusick questioned whether that would be successful when SCAT represents both eastern and western towns in the county and many on the west favor continued development — most of which is concentrated in the east.

“I’m not very optimistic about it,” Gassinger said of the entire situation.

With similar initiatives planned in neighboring towns, including Bethany Beach, though, it appears likely that county council members will at least get an earful when they open the comp plan update to public input.

Completing his report from the Planning Commission, Fields noted that commissioners had been discussing the issues of town-wide curbside recycling and impervious surfaces with Fenwick Island Town Council Member Chris Clark, who is also spearheading that town’s planning process. No recommendations had yet been reached, he said.

Also on Dec. 8:

• Residents were reminded about holiday trash collection changes due to the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. Trash will be collected Tuesday, Dec. 26, and Tuesday, Jan. 2.

• The town reported $86,400 in revenue for November, with $122,700 in expenditures in the month.

• Police reported several serious incidents from November, including an arrest for aggressive driving in which the suspect threw water at the officer and assistance in a Nov. 5 multi-jurisdiction, high-speed chase involving a stolen vehicle that ran from Dewey Beach to Ocean City before the car was stopped. South Bethany’s officers deployed “stop strips” that reduced the car’s speed from 90 mph to 50 mph. Police also found a suspected human bone late in the month, describing the bone as seeming very old. It was turned over to the medical examiner’s office.

• Property owners Ed Nazarian and Tom Roach both expressed ongoing concerns about code enforcement. Roach said contractors working near his home had been on-site at 7:15 in the morning — before the 8 a.m. permitted construction start time — and that he hadn’t seen evidence that expected daily patrols of construction locations were actually happening. “I have no confidence that anybody is going to enforce these codes,” Roach said. Nazarian said that despite Dumpsters being on-site at construction locations all summer, trash and debris was now uncontained on the street — something he said a daily check should have spotted.