It's not a beach without sand, and local coastal towns are meeting to discuss beach replenishment and possibly lobbying federal agencies for previously promised funding.
Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon said at Monday's council workshop that he planned to meet this week with South Bethany, Fenwick Island and Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) officials.
“I think it would be good if we had a concerted … effort” to ensure southern beach towns are included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' next budget for beach replenishment, Gordon said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper's office suggested that the local towns “lobby the Corps as quickly as possible to get into their funding cycle,” said Town Manager Cliff Graviet.
Graviet has drafted a letter for the mayors to consider, and perhaps sign and send. The Bethany Beach Town Council supported that action at their Nov. 14 workshop.
Mostly funded by the federal government, beach replenishment helps to build sand dunes that protect homes, businesses and infrastructure. The wide beaches also draw visitors and valuable tourism dollars. The result is a cost-benefit ratio that the town's tout strongly in seeking federal and state funding for their beaches.
The next local nourishment project was slated for the fall of 2017, for the towns of Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island. However, that three-year cycle is always at the mercy of Army Corps funding (itself at the mercy of the federal budget), and some are worried that it won't happen.
“Rehoboth and Dewey [Beaches] have replenishment. What's happened here to us — I think this region south of the inlet needs to promote itself as much as possible, with the three towns,” Gordon said.
Those northern beaches were already scheduled for renourishment in 2016, which was lucky timing after January's Winter Storm Jonas dragged sand away from Delaware's Atlantic Coast.
Councilman Joseph Healy supported a united front.
“Funding is going to be a major issue over the next several years,” Healy said. “Delaware is going to attempt to do the 35 percent [match] on our end,” but the State could easily turn around and ask municipalities to start giving the State back a share of realty transfer taxes. “This isn't about Bethany Beach. This is about the region,” he emphasized.
The discussion of the issue on Monday began with the suggestion of a beach replenishment action committee being created in the town but, for now, the council opted just to try to get those letters in the mail.
Next, Bethany Beach may propose a larger committee among the three towns. Later, there could even be coalition of coastal towns, Chambers of Commerce, legislators and other interested parties (although Gordon warned that large groups move more slowly).
Just inland from the beach, Atlantic Avenue is already due for a full repaving, and officials believe that makes it a perfect time to also address other parking and pedestrian issues.
The council brainstormed ways to install ADA-compliant sidewalks on a street where some driveways extend into the road. (Older houses were once built so close to the road that today, cars sometimes have to park partly in the roadway, even when parked under the house.)
“Atlantic Avenue badly needs to be repaved, the whole length of it,” Graviet said. “It's also logical to not just improve the roadway, but the safety of it … a walkway but also a bikeway too.”
This is one of the wider avenues in town, so there is some room to work with. Graviet suggested a concept that removes permit-parking spaces but gives residents more room on their own properties.
“The biggest problem exists between 5th Street and Ocean View Parkway,” Graviet said, so he later proposed a one-way loop on those two blocks, around Pennsylvania Avenue to Atlantic Avenue.
Town Hall has designed some ideas. Meanwhile, the council asked for more mockups and video footage to show the problem.
They said they want to get individual property owners' input, either through one-on-one meetings or public hearing.
In other Bethany Beach news:
• Bottoms up! Town Council will consider changing its alcohol code (Town Code, Chapter 217) to include language on hotels. While the 99 Sea Level restaurant has a liquor license, parent building Bethany Beach Ocean Suites does not and is attempting to obtain one.
At the Nov. 18 council meeting, the council will considerer adding language regarding hotels to the code, as well as allowing liquor to be sold there from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer said the extension of the permitted serving hours is because of the nature of hotels, which have weddings, conferences and late-night guests. All other restaurants must still stop serving at 11 p.m.
• The council will also consider on Friday a change to Town Code Chapter 475, regarding residential outdoor lighting. The proposal would say that any outdoor lighting must be shielded or blocked so as not to create a nuisance, shining no more than 0.2 foot-candles onto adjoining property.
Realistically, the issue is houses that are so close together that one family's motion-sensor lights can wake up their neighbors, said Councilman Chuck Peterson.
Peterson said he hopes it won't turn into a big code-enforcement issue. It does give some power to people when asking their neighbors to tone down the lights.
“It's a last resort, like so many ‘nuisance' ordinances,” Graviet said.
The Bethany Beach Town Council will meet Friday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. in town hall.