NOTE: Sussex Beat is a mix of news, analysis and commentary by Eric Magill, publisher of Sussex County Online.
A full fireman's funeral for fallen Greenwood firefighter Arnold Blankenship III will be today, May 4, 2000, at 1 p.m. in the Greenwood Fire Hall on U.s. 13.
About 2,000 to 4,000 people, including firefighters from all over the state, Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper, Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, and U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, are expected to honor the assistant chief of the Greenwood Fire Co..
Blankenship died during a controlled burn in a 2 1/2 story farmhouse on Sunday, May 1, 2000. Fire officials believe the 27-year-old Blankenship died when a flashover blew up in the attic of the farmhouse five miles west of Bridgeville as Blankenship was trying to ignite the fire.
Firefighters know all about Murphy's Law. When it comes to fires, anything that can go wrong often will. It's something they live with evey time they answer a call.
Non-firefighters don't learn those lessons until fire hits close to home. If you've ever been involved in a fire in your own home or a neighbor's, you learn in a hurry just how many things can go wrong and cause injury or death.
It' a tribute to the training of the volunteer firefighters throughout Sussex County and the nation that more injuries and deaths don't result.
The funeral for Blankenship, a husband and father of a 1-year-old boy, is open to the public and would offer a great opportunity for non-firefighters to say "thank you" to the thousands of dedicated volunteer firefighters who will attend.
If you can't attend, though, you can still show your appreciation through donations to your local fire company or participation in the fire company's activities. Even if you can't fight fires, fire companies always need volunteers to raise money, etc.
Remember ... firefighters need our support as much as we need theirs.
Voters in the Woodbridge School District will get a second chance to make long overdue improvements to the district's schools during a referendum on Saturday, May 6, 2000.
Voters rejected a capital improvements and staffing referendum in February by a mere 64 votes. The major objection to the first referendum was that it would require a 67.5 percent school tax increase.
Unfortunately, voters across the county in districts like Woodbridge and Indian River, districts whose residents have failed to properly maintain and update their schools over the years, will be facing these difficult decisions until they finally decide to pay for improvements that should have been made years ago.
The new Woodbridge referendum calls for a 59.5 percent school tax increase coupled with an increase in the capitation tax levied on all citizens 18 years of age or older.
The district will use the money to build a new middle school with athletic fields and for infrastructure work.
The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. at Woodbridge High School and Woodbridge Elementary School.
Local officials learned about plans for a Rehoboth Beach visitors center at a Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday, May 3, 2000.
The visitors center, on 12 acres of land on Route 1 between the County Corporate Center and Jungle Jim's Adventure World, will be a replica of a 19th Century train station.
The 55,000 square foot building, to be officially known as the Delaware Coastal Museum, Transit and Resort Visitor Center, is scheduled to open in Spring 2003. It will contain a main exhibit and temporary exhibits from various history and art-related organizations in the area.
Dr. Barbara Benson of the Historical Society of Delaware, who helped start the process of building the visitors center, presented slides showing exhibits at the Delaware History Museum and how they would be incorporated into the Rehoboth center.
While many of the center's functions are still in the design changes, the center's design and fund-raising committee said plans include classroom space, meeting space, a hotel and restaurant reservations service, and a stage and amphitheater.
The stage and amphitheater would accomodate approximately 1,500 people.
The state has pledged a $100,000 grant for the project. The committee will seek additional funding this month.
While it's always good to provide better services to the thousands of visitors who flock to the Rehoboth-Lewes-Dewey area every year, it would be better if the plans included a convention center to replace the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, which the resorts long ago outgrew.
A controversial proposal to add harness racing and pari-mutuel wagering to the Sea Coast Speedway on U.S. 113 south of Georgetown wll be heard tonight, May 4, 2000, by the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission at 7:30 p.m.
Bunnie and Al Williams, owners of the track, want a conditional use permit to allow the addition of the harness track, a grandstand, a paddock, and wagering.
While the Williams believe horse racing will eventually come to the county and feel the track would help central Sussex take advantage of the county's booming tourism economy, opponents object to the increased noise and traffic such a facility will bring, as well as the addition of a gambling establishment in the county.
There is even a group, the Citizens of Sussex County Against Gambling Expansion, designed to fight gambling in the county. Obviously, it opposes the Williams' plan and is extremely concerned about the possibility of slot machine gambling, which opponents say the Williams would not need additional approval for if their conditional use proposal is accepted.
It's highly unlikely the Williams could make a go of it without adding slot machine gambling to support the horse racing venture.
Delaware's other harness tracks -- Dover Downs and Harrington -- only survive because of slot machine gambling there, and the existence of those slot machines has hurt Maryland harness tracks so much that harness officials continually press state legislators for slot machines in that state.
While the Williams' stated goal of establishing a bonafide tourist attraction in central Sussex County is laudable, and while we have always liked harness racing, we don't believe the Williams' proposal is feasible what with three other struggling harness tracks (including Ocean City, Maryland) within a 45-minute drive of the proposed site.
And we certainly don't like the idea of slot machine gambling in Sussex County -- and all of the inherent plagues that come with it (visit Atlantic City, N.J., if you don't believe me) -- which would be needed to make the venture feasible.
You can voice your opinion on county issues in the Sussex County Online Forum or cast your vote on various Sussex County issues on our online poll. Just follow the links below to make your voice heard and your vote count:
For more information on local emergency services, visit the web pages of the Bethany Beach and Indian River fire companies and Sussex County Emergency Medical Services. Links to those sites can be found on the Sussex Search Emergency Services category page.
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