South Bethany has passed a resolution regarding the proposed offshore wind project and proposed amenities at Fenwick Island State Park being offered by the developer in exchange for an electric hookup location there.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) did not notify coastal towns about the proposal before the general public-comments process opened last autumn.
“They’re still in the early planning stages, and coastal communities have not been included in any of the discussion of the memorandum with [developer] Orsted or DNREC, so I think it’s important for us to strongly suggest that any further discussion … include the coastal communities at the table,” Council Member Sue Callaway said on Feb. 10.
Mayor Tim Saxton said he personally feels that “it’s a done deal,” so the next step is to at least demand input on the next stages. If Fenwick becomes even more attractive of a beach destination, then more traffic could be coming eastward, and particularly using South Bethany’s residential roads as a cut-through, he said.
“I truly believe this is in federal waters, there’s not a lot anybody can do at this point except state our position and where we’re at,” Saxton said. “My goal is to protect us from unintended consequences. … We need to work with them.”
The resolution was critical of the State’s entering a memorandum of understanding with Orsted on the proposal; of the coastal towns’ not being notified before the general public; and of no direct other financial or direct green-energy benefits to Delaware towns.
Although the council “supports all potential renewable energy resources when constructed in a responsible manner,” they said the natural environment and “invaluable” ocean view are treasured by citizens and visitors.
“The Council strongly requests participation into any future decisions regarding the park plans, substation power grid, the location and size of windfarm turbines and impact on traffic within the surrounding coastal communities,” the resolution states.
Unanimously approved, the document was sent to the governor, and to state, county and federal representatives.
“I think we covered most of the points that we heard from folks. … I know we’re a small community, but we will be impacted by it,” Callaway said.
Updates to election rules
In order to comply with state law, the Town is considering minor updates to the town code, and perhaps bigger charter changes in the future. Right now, the proposal is to delete most of code Chapter 138, “Voting, Absentee,” and instead just refer to the State’s rules on absentee voting. They would also update the absentee oath and, as a housekeeping issue, simplify their three-envelope balloting system, “saving some money and making it a little simpler,” said Town Clerk Janet Powell. “Everything else, we’re doing the same, as far as procedure.”
This is a short-term change, with the council vote scheduled for March 13.
Later this year, the Town may also consider some charter changes (which require approval from the state legislature) on voter qualifications. They follow the state’s 30-day residency requirement, although their charter says otherwise. They will also consider the definition of “resident” versus “freeholder”; candidate qualifications; and the length of time a person must own property before being allowed to participate in town elections.
“We’re having same questions every year. ‘Who can vote?’ We need a lot of clarity on that for property owners,” said Callaway, especially with “freeholder” being an antiquated term for property owner.
The 2020 Board of Election includes Sally Baker, Bonnie Rae and Donna Farrow. The election workers will be Pat Spangler, Jane Bonbright and John Stefani.
Typically, previous volunteers are given first option to serve again, and then others are invited to fill the gaps. Not many people are interested in helping with election day because it’s Memorial Day weekend and not easy work, said Town Manager Maureen Hartman.
Trim those bushes!
To increase traffic safety, the town council will consider Ordinance 198-20, designed to increase drivers’ lines of vision around town.
Near stop signs, nearby bushes and décor that technically fit the code are sometimes still too tall for drivers to safely see around. Moreover, the code-enforcement officer said he didn’t feel he had much legal standing to take corrective action other than writing a letter. One person might cut the bushes, but another might toss the letter in a trash bin.
Currently, within 10 feet of an intersection, any potential visual obstructions must be 3 feet or shorter. That includes fences, plants and other décor. The proposal would double that distance to 20 feet for the property on the right side of a stop sign. The distance would remain 10 feet on the driver’s left side of an intersection.
Every intersection will functionally have an imaginary 10-by-20-by-22.4-foot triangle in which nothing may exceed 3 feet in height. The code will include a diagram to explain the situation.
“One look at it explains the whole ordinance,” said John Fields, chairperson of the Charter & Code Committee.
A public hearing on the change will be held before the council vote on Friday, March 13, at 6 p.m.
“It’s not just a matter of enforcement, it’s a matter of education. If everyone in town knew that they had to clear the corner lots for vision, they would probably do it, and then the few who didn’t would be subject to enforcement,” said Fields.
In other South Bethany news:
• Jane Bonbright has been appointed to the Planning Commission by a 5-1 vote (Callaway dissenting and Carol Stevenson absent). She was recommended by the chairperson, has attended public meetings and has shown an interest in long-term planning.
• Bristol Road will get new blacktop (not just micro-resurfacing) by May 15 at a cost of $58,144. Although this was more than double the budgeted amount, South Bethany can rely on Municipal Street Aid (MSA) funds from the State. The lowest bid came from Terra Firma of Delmarva.
• Dune walkway replacements should be completed by May 15 at N. 6th Street, S. 6th Street and Indian Street, at a cost of $65,500. Aquatic-Marine was the low bidder for the first in a series of improvements to improve accessibility. The cost was $25,000 above budget, but the Town will pull from its reserve fund.
• This winter, the council adopted Ordinance 196-19, creating a “Wireless Infrastructure Construction” chapter of the town code. The federal government doesn’t allow municipalities to dilly-dally when communications companies request to install small wireless facilities (such as small antennas that boost a cell phone’s wireless signal) in the Town’s right-of-way. So South Bethany established rules and fees for the permitting process, to protect the Town’s interests and earn some revenue.
The South Bethany Town Council will have two meetings on Friday, March 13: a public meeting on the 2021-fiscal-year draft budget at 5 p.m. and their regular council meeting at 6 p.m.