Sussex County Delaware

Bethany Establishes
Beach Maintenance Fund
 
Bethany Beach Town Council

Shuttle Bus Ridership
Called 'Disappointing'

By KERIN MAGILL
SC Online Content Editor

Bethany Beach Town Council established a beach maintenance fund of nearly $1 million to help pay for emergency repairs to the beach and boardwalk caused by storms.

Town Treasurer William White made the recommendation at council's meeting on Tuesday, July 30, 2002. The meeting was rescheduled from Friday, July 19, when a storm dumped 7 inches of rain on the town and flooded many town streets.

White suggested the council add $150,000 to the $600,000 already set aside for beach maintenance in the town's general fund, and add $150,000 to its $100,000 "emergency fund," for a total of $1 million between the two funds.

Some town officials voiced concern that if the town dedicated the money to emergency beach and boardwalk maintenance, they might get less state and federal funding for emergency repairs. But council member Lois Lipsett said "it would seem to me that the feds can look at a budget and see how much money there is no matter what it's called."

Council member Jane Fowler said the town had designated funds for beach and boardwalk repair in the past, and getting additional federal and state money was not a problem.

In a related move, council member John "Jack" Walsh urged residents to request support from their congressmen for setting aside $101 million in the 2003 federal budget for beach restoration and maintenance. "Beach replenishment is our lifeblood," Walsh said. "We have to keep these beaches maintained."

The resolution was drafted by the American Coastal Coalition.

Shuttle Buses 'Disappointing' ...

Town Manager Clifford Graviet reported the town's beach shuttle's ridership has been somewhat disappointing so far. He said about 200 to 300 people have ridden the shuttle each week.

Fowler said she was skeptical of the figures and said she'd like to see a council member or other volunteer ride a bus and count riders in order to get a better count.

Some in the audience pronounced the shuttle a failure halfway into the two-month trial run -- due to low ridership and what some called the unwelcome presence of the buses in neighborhoods west of Route 1.

Bethany Proper resident Nettie Propps said she objects to the buses driving through her neighborhood, particularly in the evening. "It doesn't belong there," she said, adding that "from what I can see, its' a dismal failure."

The bus route was recently modified to move the Ashwood Street drop-off point to Cedarwood. The change was made as a result of a petition signed by Ashwood Street residents.

Lake Bethany resident Lenore Callahan said she and her family enjoyed using the shuttle to get to the beach. "The biggest problem we see is that it just wasn't advertised," she said.

Graviet said efforts to advertise the shuttle have been stepped up recently. Flyers advertising the shuttle, which were given to real estate offices, apparently ran out at many locations and no one notified the town, officials said.

The subject of shuttles came up again when the council approved a housekeeping move relating to license fees from outside shuttles such as those from neighborhoods outside Bethany Beach limits.

The fees were raised this year from $1,000 to $3,000 for buses carrying 10 people; the council was merely removing the license fee from one part of the town code because it's already stated elsewhere.

But the mere mention of the word "shuttle" brought some to question whether they should be allowed at all.

"Do we have to let people from out of town come in by the busload?" Propps asked. The answer, basically, was yes.

When Propps suggested raising the fee to discourage beach shuttles from other communities, town attorney John T. "Terry" Jaywork said the fee can't be raised on a whim.

"There has to be some element of reasonableness here," some justification for raising the fee, or the town runs the risk of legal challenge. As it is, council member Jeff Cordiano said, the Village at Bear Trap Dunes has already written a letter protesting the $2,000 increase in the shuttle fee.

Private Beach Access ...

That discussion -- which touched on the effect of growth in the coastal area on the resort town -- dovetailed with another later in the meeting.

Council member Lois Lipsett suggested the council back a move by the Bethany Beach Landowners Association to force private beachfront communities to open their beaches to the public.

Attorney General M. Jane Brady responded to the BBLA that Delaware law allows private communities to close their beaches to anything but "pass through" walkers. Brady said any change would have to come from the General Assembly.

Lipsett called for a "groundswell of citizens" to work to change the law. "That's what it's going to take to make a change," she said.

Mayor Joseph McHugh said the Association of Coastal Towns has brought up the issue "year after year after year." In Delaware, he said, "the problem is that there is a lot of influence in the non-accessible part", meaning communities whose beaches are closed to the public.

One resident of a community with private beaches challenged what he felt was a characterization by the council that those communities use public funds to maintain their beaches.

John Neff, of Sussex Shores, just north of Bethany Beach, said, "It' a private beach. We take care of it. We've always taken care of it." Neff asked how the public would access the beach from the road. "There's nowhere to park," he said.

McHugh and Lipsett said the issue of private beaches, and with the need for the state to provide more parking at state beaches, is becoming critical as more and more large housing developments are being built within a few miles of the coast.

Lipsett called on all the towns along and near the coast to get involved in the effort to get legislative action on the private beach issue.

Drainage Problems ...

The council also heard an update on work to improve drainage on town streets -- a particularly newsworthy topic in the wake of two rainstorms that deluged the town in the previous week.

Town Manager Clifford Graviet said the flooding caused by the two storms was inevitable.

"There's nothing really we could have done to deal with them," he said. One storm alone dumped up to 7 inches of rain on Bethany Beach within about four hours.

Graviet said much of the problems, both in the recent storms and in most heavy rainfalls, is that there's not much to prevent the Loop Canal from flooding surrounding streets, particularly Pennsylvania Avenue.

Graviet pointed out that Pennsylvania Avenue is within a half-inch of the Loop Canal's elevation. Both are less than 3 inches above sea level. "It requires nothing for the Loop Canal to flood," he said.

In Other Business ...
  • Approved a $63,500 contract with Miken Builders for renovations to the town hall, which will include adding work stations, adding a separate front entrance for the police department and adding a conference room;

  • Voted to drop a proposed ordinance regulating the removal of trees from property being developed;

  • Discussed the possibility of adding referenda to this year's election ballot;

  • Voted to remove the commercial loading zone which had been created on Central Avenue, because the loading zone was unenforceable; and

  • Announced the slate of candidates for the Sept. 14 town council election: incumbents Joseph McHugh, Wayne Fuller, Lois Lipsett and William White, and challengers Harry Steele, Robert Degen and Robert Parsons. Polls will be open at town hall from noon to 6 p.m.

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