South Bethany grass, canal dredge addressed

South Bethany property owners are one step closer to knowing for certain when they have to cut their grass. Council members at their Oct. 13 regular meeting moved a revised ordinance forward from second to third reading.

The revised ordinance drops compliance dates that property owners and officials alike found more confusing than helpful in addition to a flat prohibition on grass and weeds taller than 10 inches.

In proposing the change, Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson had noted questions from property owners about whether tall grass was being cited on other dates, putting them unexpectedly out of compliance, and whether tall grass was being permitted to continue to exist for weeks on end between compliance dates.

So, the council struck the dates with their revision, making a flat limit on grass and weeds at 10 inches in height. If that limit is reached at any time, the town can cite the property owner, fine them and mow the property at a stiff cost. They are also required to trim around signs, decorative elements and other features in their yards.

Still exempted from the rule are beachfront dune properties — offered a pass due to efforts to keep the town’s current minimal duneline well planted for erosion control. Also still exempted are “wooded lots” — a term that caused some additional questions for Lambertson as the new ordinance was drafted.

Lambertson said some property owners had questioned whether a single tree or cluster or trees on a property would make the lot considered as a “wooded” one, permitting violation of the ordinance’s intentions. She took a swing at a minor change to the draft ordinance to address that issue but found that didn’t resolve the issues involved.

Council members instead opted to leave the new ordinance essentially as originally drafted, relying on a functional definition of “wooded lot” that is currently in use in enforcement efforts — one that doesn’t exempt lots with a single tree or handful of them, but instead exempts only heavily wooded properties.

Resident Ed Nazarian questioned whether the exemption would still apply to a property at South 8th Street and Coastal Highway that has been designated as a “wildlife sanctuary” but which some consider merely an overgrown tangle of shrubs, pines and weeds. But Councilman John Fields said the property was still considered exempt under the new ordinance.

Property owners on Oct. 13 also expressed concern about whether the ordinance does — or should — include the upkeep of fallen leaves, which can not only accumulate on a property but blow in stiff fall and winter breezes and accumulate on neighboring properties.

The council was split on the advisability of such an additional control. Councilman Richard Ronin liked the idea, and Mayor Gary Jayne said the council might look into controls on fallen leaves in the future – but, Jayne said, a second reading of the grass ordinance was not the time to insert additional language.

Ronin also questioned how the town would enforce a control on fallen leaves, since they do blow from one property to another and would require maintenance over the fall and winter — when many property owners are absent.

Town adopts NIMS

The South Bethany Town Council on Oct. 13 also unanimously agreed to adopt the National Incident Management System (NIMS) — a recommendation for all states and municipalities under the federal 9/11 Commission.

Town Manager Mel Cusick said the system was designed to ensure that all officials were speaking “on the same level” during a national or local emergency.

The system requires staff training, varying from the four-hour session the town completed the prior week in advance of a November deadline, to a full 48 hours of training required at more intensive levels. Additional deadlines for training will come in October of 2007, Cusick said. Town administrative staff, as well as police, are required to train under NIMS, and various local towns have hosted the free training courses to foster compliance.

In addition to the increased ease of communication and organization intended under NIMS, Cusick pointed out that the adoption of the system by the town is required for it to be eligible for Homeland Security grants, such as those that helped pay for the town’s new emergency generator.

Assawoman Canal work benefits town

Reporting on recent developments with the Assawoman Canal dredge, Councilman John Rubinsohn noted a beneficial shift from the original plan for the dredging.

Instead of starting on the northern segment of the project, north of the Route 26 bridge over the canal, officials have opted to work on both the north and south segments at the same time. With preparation work completed in recent weeks, actual dredging began about two weeks ago, despite a legal appeal by the Sierra Club that is still pending in the state Supreme Court.

While the original plan for the dredging work called for dredging in the southern section, south of Route 26, to begin in the fall of 2007, workers have instead been working at two sites: north of the Route 26 bridge in the northern section; and north of the Jefferson Bridge Road bridge, midway into the southern section.

Rubinsohn said work on the southernmost section of the project, south of Jefferson Bridge Road, was likely going to wait until the fall of 2007 after all, due to access problems with dredging equipment that didn’t allow an immediate start on the southern end of the canal. But the unexpectedly early start on the southern section was still greeted as welcome news by the town.

That’s because the southern section is to be dredged with the assistance of a pipe that will take spoils from the canal past South Bethany to a prepared outfall site in the Assawoman Wildlife Refuge.

Council members had expressed solid hope that the town would be permitted to use the spoils pipe to remove spoils from its own planned canal dredge, saving it money, but the fall 2007 timetable for the southern section left that plan up in the air.

With the shift, the town is better able to plan for its own dredge, which is still set to begin after the 2007 summer season. Dredging is generally confined to the fall due to the need for turbidity curtains at other times of the year to keep waters outside the work zone clear.

Asked whether that timetable could be accelerated now that the spoils pipe is to be in place in about two weeks for the larger project, Jayne said he didn’t expect that would happen. The project is currently in the hands of town engineers, who are in the negotiating and bidding phase of the design-build process.

But the start on the southern Assawoman Canal nonetheless came as welcome news to the town, which had supported the project through its legal challenges. Rubinsohn said lawyers had responded to the Sierra Club’s case on Oct. 5 and were optimistic about the project’s future.

Enhanced York Road walkway receives funding

Town Manager Mel Cusick reported that the town’s York Road pedestrian walkway project had received funding for the larger of two requested amounts. A grant of $116,686.45 was awarded to the town for the Alternative 1 version of the project, enhanced with a 2-foot-wide faux-brick median between the 5-foot walking path and the roadway.

The additional $15,000 for the alternative plan was implicitly approved by the council during their September workshop, provided the full grant was received. With that grant, Dixie Construction was authorized to proceed with the project, hoping to beat bad weather and complete the work this fall.

The Delaware Department of Transportation also approved construction inspection on the project, bringing the total value of the project to about $130,000 — of which the town will only have to pay $4,900.

“This is $130,000 of tax money that didn’t have to be spent,” Jayne said of the grants, also citing the safety and convenience enhancements in the project. Jayne praised Cusick, saying, “He’s the one who got the money.” Cusick received a round of applause, and Ronin also praised Lambertson, who he said had originated the idea behind the project prior to joining the council.

Also at the Oct. 13 meeting:

• Ronin reported that the 3,000 fliers handed out by town officials urging support of federal funding for beach replenishment resulted in some 2,000 “hits” or visits to related Web sites where e-mails of support could be sent to U.S. senators and congressmen. Congress is currently on a break, scheduled to return and deal with the bulk of federal budget bills after the November elections, including any funding for the Bethany-South Bethany project area. A temporary funding measure keeps the government running until then.

• Lambertson said a recent Beautification Committee meeting had focused on review of 2006’s beautification efforts and planning of even more work in 2007. The committee also moved forward on the purchase of five picnic tables and benches for the town park.

• Councilwoman Marge Gassinger said four contractors and one subcontractor had attended a pre-bid meeting on the town hall/police station project. No bids had been received as of Oct. 13, but Gassinger said that was typical, with most bids delivered on the final day. The bids received are due to be opened after the 2 p.m. deadline on Oct. 20. Jayne declared, “This is crunch time, when we’ll find out how much it’s really going to cost.”

• Fields said a recently reconstituted Planning Commission had been asked to take up the issues of possible municipal recycling through a DSWA program and an ordinance regarding porous surface requirements.

Jayne’s wife, Barbara, raved about the DSWA’s individual household recycling program, strongly recommending the curbside recycling system. “It’s great. It’s real, real simple,” she said. “For 6 bucks, it saves me a trip to Fenwick” — the closest recycling drop-off location.

• Cusick issued a reminder that the November council meeting has been moved to Nov. 11, due to the Nov. 10 holiday.

• Rubinsohn reported $214,000 in income from September, as rental tax income started to come in. Town reserves at the end of the month were at $2.546 million.

• In her report from the police department, Lt. Linda O’Malley noted many storm-related calls on Sept. 1; capture of fugitives related to an apparent series of thefts by house cleaners; arrest of a man for construction fraud after payment was made and work not done — one of many cases against the man, O’Malley said; and a dog bite to an officer who had been trying to apprehend the animal.

O’Malley said the impact of animal control services moving outside Sussex County to Kent County was being felt, as the town was seeing response times doubled from one hour to two or more. She said SBPD was not equipped to handle lengthy detainments of animals and had nearly had one small dog escape from the single outdoor holding pen before it was eventually reclaimed by its owner. Additionally, she noted the danger posed to officers when frightened animals were apprehended. Jayne said he would raise t