Fenwick Island beach re-vamp nearly done

After years of hopes, plans and lobbying, the massive beach reconstruction project in Fenwick Island has entered its final phase. Only a few tasks remain to be completed, with the beach replenished, dunes rebuilt and stabilizing sea grass planted.

Remaining items in progress: completion of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant beach access crossover at Bayard Street and installation of benches atop the new dunes.

The Bayard Street crossover is the only beach access that has not been completed, with hard-packed sand paths now leading from the roadway over the dunes at each of the town’s existing crossovers. The paths are edged by dune fencing that not only serves to stabilize the new dunes but keeps beachgoers on the path so they don’t degrade the new constructs that are hoped to help protect their homes.

Certainly, the hard-packed pathways make the somewhat lengthier trip to the water line a little easier than it once was, with the loose sands now compacted to a consistency more like solid soil or a typical path in a woodland park.

Work at Bayard Street is ongoing and has been a source of concern for the town. The ADA-compliant crossing — required due to the federal funds used in the beach reconstruction project — has had its surface partially compacted and posts to secure the fencing have been installed. But the dune fencing is not yet erected on the western side of the dune, and there are some who worry the completed crossing will not actually meet ADA requirements.

Mayor Peter Frederick discussed the issues at the town council’s March 11 workshop-without-agenda (WWA), citing measurements taken and calculations made by Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan.

Frederick said the ADA compliance rules require a slope on the crossing of no more than 1/12, but measuring the difference between the street height on the western side and the dune height, Hanrahan calculated a higher 1/8 slope on the west side as the project currently stands. (The eastern side of the dune is believed to meet the ADA standard.)

The concern about compliance has been mentioned to Army Corps of Engineers officials, who were in charge of the reconstruction project, and to officials at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), which is in charge of maintaining the crossovers. Frederick said neither agency believed that there was a compliance issue as the project was designed, but town officials remain skeptical of that conclusion.

With the western side of the crossover still under construction, the final determination has yet to be made, of course. And there is some uncertainty as to which of several handicapped-access ramp standards the crossover would fall under, such as those for hard surfaces (i.e. a boardwalk, as was originally proposed for the ADA crossover location) versus sand.

But Hanrahan said the end of Bayard Street rests approximately 10 feet above sea level, where the top of the dune is about 17.5 feet above sea level. That’s a 7.5-foot rise, over the course of the sloping path up the western dune face. Hanrahan said his calculations dictate an 84-foot path length to scale that height difference at the 1/12 slope apparently required by the ADA, but he measures the path length now as only about 60 feet — shorter and, he believes, higher in slope, than allowed.

Frederick deferred to Corps and DNREC judgment on the issue, for now, with the disclaimer, “I’m not an engineer.” But he said the town’s concerns about compliance have been heard by both entities and both, he said, were hoping to keep the town happy. The issue remains under discussion, he said, and adjustments to the design have not been ruled out.

There is one other adjustment the town would like to see at the Bayard Street crossing — increased access for the general public. At just 5 feet in width along most of the path, the ADA-compliant crossover could be a potential headache for the average beachgoer, town officials fear. It may easily accommodate a beachgoing wheelchair, as it was designed to do, but a family with all its beach accoutrements might have problems navigating the path, let alone passing another such group.

The town has proposed adding a straight-shot crossing to the Bayard Street dune, but that request has thus far been rejected by DNREC, Frederick said.

Hanrahan presented a revised suggestion for how such a change could be implemented at the March 11 WWA, offering a drawing depicting a straight path leading up the western dune and joining into a wider section of crossover that tops the dune. Rather than two separate crossings, the design would offer two western access points, with the option for those not needing the sloping access to scale a less gradual, straight path, rather than walking the longer, meandering path meant to allow wheelchair access.

The town had not yet presented the modified suggestion to DNREC, Frederick said, and could hope it would be found more acceptable to the agency.

Hanrahan further noted a maintenance issue anticipated with the ADA-compliant crossing and its meager width: there is no equipment sufficiently narrow to traverse the 5-foot path to mechanically remove blown sand from the hard-packed surface. He said DNREC had mentioned possibly bringing work crews to the site periodically to do the job by hand, with shovels.

One DNREC official had commented that DNREC was not known to take up shovels for anything but ceremonial groundbreaking these days. And Hanrahan noted that the town had then been offered the chance to take over the maintenance on the crossing, in that context.

That suggestion was roundly dismissed by town officials, who saw it as a headache DNREC was eager to pass on to the town and one which they would not willingly take on, since DNREC is officially charged with the crossover maintenance. DNREC is expected to bring in maintenance workers and equipment to clear the unpacked sand that has already blown across the other crossings, prior to the summer season.

One project the town was more than eager to tackle was a plan to add benches to the dune crossovers. The location of the benches on the dunes has been under discussion and involved varied opinions from the council members. But Frederick obtained DNREC permission for the town to place the benches on the tops of the dunes, and that is the plan for now.

Council members approved the expenditure to buy the benches at their February meeting, and Hanrahan — with verbal permission from DNREC — borrowed one of the benches at the town park to set up a sample area at the northernmost, Lewes Street crossover.

The bench has its own little niche in the dune fencing atop the dune, just off the hard-packed path. It faces to the south, allowing both a view across the dunes to the ocean and a place for weary beachgoers to break their traversement of the dunes with a brief respite.

Council members said they thought the spots might also provide a nice option for those not wanting to head all the way down to the beach but who wanted to catch a breeze and see the view. Hanrahan was to order the additional benches this week and begin installation as soon as they arrive.

Already installed at the crossovers are new dune-fencing niches to help contain the beach trash bins and carved wooden signs asking beachgoers to take care of the dunes and beach.

Also at the March 11 WWA, council members clarified that the proposed ordinance limiting floor-area ratio (FAR) for homes in the town would not include rooftop decks in its calculation. Other decks would be included at 50 percent of their area.

Finally, Fenwick Island Fishing Club President John Belian appealed to those present at the WWA to oppose a proposed statewide saltwater-fishing license.

Belian said he was particularly concerned the new requirement would harm the club’s efforts to teach fishing to children. He said children were being taught conservation, pollution control and sportsmanship, along with the basics of fishing, and the license requirement could deter them — particularly those from outside the state, who would pay a higher license fee — from learning the hobby. He noted the requirement would apply for both ocean fishing and bay fishing.