South Bethany outlines evacuation route

South Bethany Police Chief Joe Deloach outlined a hurricane evacuation route for the town and immediate vicinity, at the Sept. 9 council meeting. It follows narrow roads, through several twists and turns, but may be highly effective in one regard — South Bethany’s route steers clear of Route 26, which may become rather congested in an emergency evacuation.

Deloach said he’d driven South Bethany’s route the night before, and while most of the intersections where evacuees would need to turn left or right were clearly marked with directional signs, at least one was missing. However, he described the turnings point by point, referring to a large map set up on an easel.

• Leave town via Evergreen Road, and turn north onto Route 1.

• Turn left (west) onto Jefferson Bridge Road, headed for Kent Avenue.

• Turn left (south) onto Kent Avenue and continue 0.3 mile, over Jefferson Bridge. Watch for Beaver Dam Road on the left.

• Turn left (west) onto Beaver Dam Road and continue to the intersection at Parker House Road, 0.6 mile.

• Criss-cross Parker House Road, left and a quick right, back onto Beaver Dam Road.

• Follow Beaver Dam Road another 2.6 miles, to Pepper’s Corner Road (Powell Farm Road).

• Turn right (northwest) onto Pepper’s Corner Road, continue 0.6 mile to Roxana Road (Route 17).

• Turn left (southwest) onto Roxana Road and continue 1.1 miles. Watch for Daisy Road on the right.

• Turn right (west) onto Daisy Road and continue 0.4 mile to Pyle Center Road (Route 20).

• Turn right (north) onto Pyle Center Road and continue 4.1 miles (it becomes Armory Road).

• Turn left (west) onto Vines Creek Road (Route 26, at Dagsboro).

“You don’t have to follow that route,” Deloach added. “It’s just a suggestion.” However, it did come from Sussex County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Director Joe Thomas, Deloach continued, and in his opinion, it would be by far the best route for town residents.

Sussex County EOC has advised Bethany Beach, Ocean View, Millville and Clarksville to use Route 26 for emergency evacuation, Deloach pointed out. However, Joe Demul (Layton Drive) again raised the point he’d broached at the annual Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) capital transportation program the night before — people might find themselves cut off at the bridge over Vines Creek.

The land rises sharply west of Vines Creek, but the bridge itself is rather low-lying. Demul expected it would flood if a hurricane ever created a storm surge in the Indian River Bay.

Further south, residents of Fenwick Island and north Ocean City, Md. are advised to evacuate via Route 54. DelDOT has completed significant improvements along that route, raising sections that in the past flooded after a heavy downpour, but there are still a few low-lying sections there as well.

So, narrow and winding or possibly flooded — no evacuation route seemed perfect, and there was some grumbling that maybe the best plan would be to batten down the hatches and ride it out.

Deloach jumped on that. “We don’t want you to stay put,” he emphasized. “If you tell me you’re going to stay put, I’ll be coming back to you to explain another procedure — how to leave me a contact for your next of kin.”

Mayor Gary Jayne added a point or two — always keep a radio and fresh batteries, and a full tank of gas in the car.

Earlier, Jayne had opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. And reporting from a recent Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) meeting, he said the association had resolved to help.

Some of the larger towns had offered to donate $5,000, Jayne said, and based on that, he recommended South Bethany contribute $2,000. Council Member John Fields asked how SCAT planned to distribute the funding, and Jayne said they weren’t sure yet. The American Red Cross would probably remain the default, but he said SCAT might try to send monies directly to some of the stricken municipalities instead.

Council voted unanimously to earmark the $2,000 for SCAT’s disbursement.

In other business, Tom Sombar (Sombar & Associates) delivered the annual audit report, noting a strong fiscal 2005 for South Bethany.

Revenues increased by more than 15 percent, expenditures actually decreased (by about $5,000) from the previous year. “You rarely ever see that,” Sombar noted. The town held nine months’ operating expenses in undesignated funds — a nice cushion in the event of an economic emergency — and while Sombar noted a loss of municipal street aid, he said healthy half-percent real estate transfer tax revenues offset that loss.

Jayne credited Town Manager Mel Cusick and Financial Administrator Renee McDornan for the town’s fiscal success, and added a comment about those transfer taxes, and recent budget shortfalls at DelDOT.

“There’s a move afoot to take away either all, or some, of those transfer taxes,” he warned. “This is a big issue with the towns.” As Sombar confirmed, those taxes accounted for a solid quarter of all town revenues (rental taxes add another quarter).

Council Member Richard Ronan questioned the suddenness of the shortfall. While Demul relayed DelDOT comments about materials and labor cost increases, Ronan suspected the department had piled too many projects into the hopper.

According to Lloyd Hughes (Layton Drive), other states often received a much larger federal share on road projects — in Delaware, the state shouldered the load.

Jayne bumped Hughes to the top of the list for a presentation on the Tidal Flush program. Hughes, a former council member, has worked the modeling for this project over the past few years. It would involve piping under Route 1, extending a short distance into the ocean, to permit a tidal interchange between the highly-oxygenated ocean and poorly-oxygenated town canals.

The town recently commissioned the Entrix engineering firm for computer modeling — the results corroborated Hughes’ research. With the pipes in place, he said it would take approximately four months to flush the town canals into the Little Assawoman Bay, and another four months for the bay to flush itself into the ocean.

After that, the canals would stay clean, and the tidal exchange would even begin to slowly clean up the Little Assawoman Bay, he asserted.

The presentation was timely — Hughes said they’d had another algae bloom on Aug. 15. The reminder of rotting algae stink likely improved receptiveness to his unorthodox water quality initiative.

In other business, Ed Nazarian (Peterson Drive) asked if council had come to a decision regarding a possible sublease arrangement with Verizon, for cellular telephone antennae on the Artesian water tower (Artesian rents the ground) and an associated equipment building. Jayne reported consensus at the Aug. 25 special meeting, to decline.

Nazarian also asked council what, if any action, they intended to take against various contractors around town who continued to operate despite their failure to lay gravel on their work sites (leading to slip-shop soil conservation). “Our building permit isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, if it’s not enforced,” Nazarian pointed out.

Jayne took personal responsibility for his delay in responding to Nazarian’s concerns, and said he would move to rectify the situation.

Tom Roche (Henlopen Drive) warned everyone of a running phone scam — someone claiming to represent the fire department trying to solicit funds. As Roche pointed out, and Jayne confirmed, the fire departments do not request donations over the telephone.

In upcoming dates, Cusick noted this year’s Coastal Cleanup, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17, and Council Member Marge Gassinger reminded everyone of the special election the following week (Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Property owners will weigh in on a $970,000 town hall/police station capital project at that time — the town holds those monies in reserves, but council needs public authorization to expend them.