Fenwick dune crossing idea gets go-ahead

Fenwick Island officials have made some headway with their quest for a standard dune crossing at Bayard Street.

Though U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) officials have confirmed that the current crossing — now under construction — is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and will not be altered on that basis, town officials have been skeptical of that conclusion and had additionally requested some alterations to the design to allow more standard access instead of the winding path and railing that is being built.

They were granted permission to have that standard access on March 23, with a fax sent to the town from DNREC, which controls the dunes.

Mayor Peter Frederick has questioned how many in the town really need handicapped access versus the number of residents and visitors who will be inconvenienced by the 5-foot-wide required standard width of the ADA crossing. That width is a result of the requirement for handrails within 30 inches of the center of the path, on both sides.

Frederick said he believes the ADA path could make it difficult for a family with their beach accoutrements to get to the beach, let alone allow more than one such group to pass each other. And he’s not convinced that those with special needs will gain any benefit, since sand may blow across the path and render it difficult even for a beach-friendly wheelchair to traverse at times.

Instead, the town proposed a steeper, straight access that would be more maintenance-friendly and run from the street surface to the beach. But the use of federal and state funds to reconstruct the beach mandate that it include ADA-compliant access. And that access site has been placed at Bayard Street. No matter how few people the town feels might use it, and no matter the potential inconvenience to other beachgoers, it must remain.

Frederick and Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan had proposed a compromise solution to DNREC in recent weeks, suggesting that a straightaway be constructed from the street surface to the crest of the dune, where the ADA path is flat between the ramps that meander up and down the dune on the east and west sides. There, it would join the ADA path, offering a way to bypass a lengthy section on the west face of the dune and allowing more potential for two groups to pass each other.

In response, DNREC has now agreed to allow a straight, standard access across the dune, immediately adjacent to the ADA path, Frederick announced at the March 24 town council meeting.

The change will relieve some of the concerns expressed to date by town officials, residents and visitors, while still meeting the requirements imposed with the federal funding.

But in yet another turn on the matter, one resident also took the opportunity March 24 to voice dissatisfaction that the Bayard Street crossing is the only ADA-compliant access in the town.