Bethany renews contract with lobbyist

The Bethany Beach Town Council unanimously voted to renew the town’s contract with beach replenishment consultants Marlowe & Co. at the council’s Jan. 21 meeting. The contract pays the firm $3,500 per month, from January to December 2005, with a maximum of $350 per month in out-of-pocket expenses. The contract allows either party to terminate the contract within 60 days, after providing 30-days notice.

Former town council member Bob Parsons, in providing information to the council members about the contract, noted he had been asked by former Mayor Joseph McHugh to keep the council informed about beach replenishment issues and argued that Marlowe & Co. had made serious and fruitful efforts toward the town’s goals in obtaining federal funding for beach reconstruction.

Parsons said he recommended the town renew its contract with the company for a full year, to allow it to continue the work of monitoring Army Corps of Engineers progress on the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project area, as well as the related funding issues.

The former councilman noted that he had met with a representative of Marlowe & Co. and the Corps’ Philadelphia-area district director on Dec. 22, 2004, to delineate the tasks that need completion before the Corps will enter into a cooperative agreement that will move the so-called 50-year reconstruction project forward from the early engineering stages.

The first step in the process, according to Parsons, is the completion of an updated evaluation report on the economic benefits of the project. Previous reports showed a 7-1 benefit-cost ratio, Parsons said, and that could be expected to improve even further, thanks to increasing property values in the area.

The second step would be an updated environmental assessment on the project. Parsons said such updates would be limited in scope, focusing primarily on whether erosion patterns since the previous assessment had followed predicted patterns and still suggested the project was necessary.

The third step would be environmental permitting, followed by the development of the actual cooperative agreement with the Corps. Finally, the Corps would need to enter into real estate agreements with the owners of properties bordering the reconstruction zone. The agreements, Parsons said, would address land rights related only to the Corps’ right to do work on the properties and would not be traditional easements related to other uses.

That last area could prove to be the largest sticking point for the project, Parsons opined. The consensus from those involved, he said, is that some property owners in South Bethany may be less willing to grant the Corps the necessary easements to do the work, as proved the case with some property owners in the Lewes-Rehoboth Beach project area.

If the Corps was unable to obtain all the needed easements, it could potentially delay the reconstruction process and again place it in jeopardy of having federal funds cut per President George W. Bush’s budget requests.

Parsons said one option suggested by Marlow & Co. was that the project could be completed in two separate segments, allowing a fully permitted Bethany Beach project to get under way while the Corps dealt with potential easement issues in South Bethany.

He noted that the easement problems in the Lewes-Rehoboth Beach project were eventually solved by the condemnation of the properties in question by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNREC), which is the coordinator for the reconstruction projects. “They will not let that happen again,” Parsons said. “They are on top of it.”

Parsons made the case for continuing the contract with Marlowe & Co. by emphasizing that they had asked “the right questions” at meetings with the Corps, Congress and administrative agencies to keep the project on target. He said the company was focused on monitoring the Corps’ progress through the engineering stage of the project and into its building phase.

Keeping that progress on track is paramount for the project’s completion, Parsons said, and Marlowe & Co. was known for its knowledge and contacts on the subject, as well as its ability to get projects past stalled points and funding crises.

Parsons gave Marlowe & Co. much of the credit for the renewal of federal funding for the current engineering phase of the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project, noting the project was one of only handful that recovered from a no-funding request from the Bush administration to actually receiving an increase in funding (from an initial $350,000 amount in a draft budget in July 2004 to a final amount of $425,000 when the budget was finalized in December 2004.)

He also credited the work of the state’s legislators in the effort to continue funding for beach projects despite presidential opposition.

The emphasis on getting the project from the engineering phase to the construction phase has largely been due the drawing of a line for funding cut-offs at programs that have already begun construction. Parsons said Marlowe’s efforts to monitor the project’s progress were “important to get a funding request to Congress as soon as possible.”

Resident and Planning Commission member Steve Wode supported Parsons’ recommendation that the contract with Marlowe & Co. be renewed. “The Bethany Beach-South Bethany segment will cost the most of all of the segments,” Wode said. “Marlowe is key.”

Wode said he supported the plan suggested by state Rep. Gerald Hocker when he spoke to the council and residents several months ago. Hocker had advised the town to aim for the full 50-year project, rather than making plans to do short-term replenishment projects without federal funding or “piggybacking” replenishment with the project slated for Fenwick Island.

Parsons noted that the engineering phase of the Bethany Beach project is essentially done, with the $425,000 in federal funding targeted for completing final engineering aspects and getting the project moving from engineering to actually putting sand on the beach.

Mayor Jack Walsh said South Bethany officials had been approached about joining in with the Bethany Beach contract with Marlowe & Co. and sharing some of the costs. However, he said, South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne had been out of town and the South Bethany Town Council would be unable to address the issue until its February meeting.

Council members then voted unanimously to continue the contract with Marlowe & Co. through December 2005.

“The beach will be bigger than it has been in more than 50 years,” Parsons said of the scope of the project, noting that many town residents will never have seen the spread of sand that will exist after its completion. If performed as in existing projects, a reconstruction project in Bethany Beach would include a 50-year maintenance agreement with the Corps, hence the “50-year” moniker.

Parsons noted that he would provide a sample cooperative agreement with the Corps for council members to peruse in the near future.