Fenwick denies conservation tax break

Fenwick Island Town Council considered a request from the South Schulz Wetlands Association at the Dec. 16 council meeting, but decided against supporting wetlands conservation via tax relief.
The dollar amount in question was so small that the concession would have been largely symbolic. (The association was seeking a $32 annual property tax waiver.) However, council members expressed discomfort at making changes to the tax code to support any local causes, no matter how noble they might be.

Council Member R. Chris Clark, a member of the association, presented the request. He basically offered the essential facts surrounding the request, and then abstained from the voting.

According to Clark, the association comprised six homeowners, who’d collectively invested $20,000, and procured a roughly $55,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture, to restore a nearby section of wetland. The project involved the placement of rip-rap (stones for shoreline stabilization) and “bio logs,” (another stabilizer) and the planting of grasses and shrubs, he said.

Theirs was unique, among the other wetland conservation projects around town, he added (according to Building Official Patty Schuchman, there were a total of 11 around town).

Unlike the others, the South Schulz patch was not adjacent to any of the interested homeowners’ properties, Clark pointed out.

But the town received a benefit, in that it contributed points to the community rating system for flood insurance. (Open space preservation helps Fenwick retain its discount.)

As Schuchman noted, the beach accounted for the vast majority of the town’s open space, but the privately-owned easements (or in South Schultz’s case, parcel) contributed about 5 percent to the total.

Council Member Vicki Carmean suggested a change to benefit one non-profit might “open a big door” to similar requests for consideration, and Council Member Harry Haon agreed.

But he offered the association the highest praise. “You stepped up to the challenge, and did something,” Haon said. “That’s sure serves to provide an example of what people can do, as individuals, to protect the environment.”

In so saying, he came to ask his colleagues whether this might be an area where they should consider some formal support from the town.

But as Mayor Peter Frederick noted, “Whenever we make changes to the tax code, we’re getting into a really sticky situation.”

Clark took the denial in stride, and later said the argument might have actually carried more weight coming from a private citizen. He said he’d suggested one of the other association members try their luck next year.

In other business, Frederick reported on recent concerns that fencing installed atop the newly-constructed sand dunes would block the view for some beachfront property owners. Apparently, the fence will in fact not be placed along the crest of the dune.

However, as Frederick reminded those in attendance, the dunes could still creep upward, as blowing sand lodged in the beachgrass.

Council also discussed a revised schedule for Fenwick Island Newsletter (FIN) deadlines. The town will be accepting submissions until April 15 this year, to send out the first FIN a little earlier (May 1, with the parking permits). Council members planned for a second FIN some time during the summer, and then a third in November.

Council Member Martha Keller gave the environmental report, noting upcoming meetings in January and ongoing state efforts to pass Pollution Control Strategy (PCS) regulations.

On a side note, she commended Sussex County Council for imposing the up-to-120-day moratorium on cluster development. Keller encouraged residents in attendance to use the moratorium as an opportunity to send letters to council members, letting them know how they were being affected by growth.

“You don’t have to be an erudite authority on anything,” she said. “You just have to tell them.”

And finally, Council Member Theo Brans reminded everyone to work up a little courage and sign up for this year’s Fenwick Freeze. The icy plunge into the Atlantic is scheduled for New Year’s Day, at 10:30 a.m., and he said approximately 50 people had signed up as of Dec. 16.