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February 21, 1997     Cape Gazette
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February 21, 1997
 

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10 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, February 21- February 27, 1997 West Rehoboth group OKs water line to community center site By Kerry Kester The proposed new community center in West Rehoboth has re- ceived a green light for a water line. Following a public hearing, members of Westside New Begin- nings (WSNB) met on Thursday, Feb. 13 and voted to apply for a grant that will provide funding for a water line to the center. The vote favoring the project came after a heated debate over whether the project would create financial hardship on property owners in the community. As it stands, residents who live near the area in which the line will run will have an option to hook onto the water line, at their own expense, if they so desire. The to- tal cost of the project, an estimat- ed $119,307.50, will be financed through matching government grants. The grant from which WSNB has applied is the Delaware State Housing Authority's Community Development Block Grant. The Sussex County Community De- velopment and Housing Division will work toward making the ap- plication and overseeing the pro- ject. Oreg Ferrese, Rehoboth Beach city manager, said during the hearing that the city supports the center being able to access "good, clean water. We're getting esti- mates right now," said Ferrese. "We are also willing to provide some in-kind services from our workforce, so they can come up with the match." The water will be supplied by the independent water provider - Tidewater Utilities - and the cen- ter, along with anyone who hooks onto the line, will incur the water costs. During the hearing, property owners voiced concern that hav- ing the water line in the communi- ty could ultimately lead to being forced to hook onto the line. "Sooner or later, they're going to say the wells are contaminated and they're going to have to get hooked up," said Arnold Twynam. He said his concern is to avoid property owners becoming "trapped" into incurring the hookup and supply expenses. "Honestly, we don't need the customers," said Mayor Sam Cooper. "We thought we could help in this situation - to bring wa- ter to the community center." AI Phillips, rehabilitation spe- cialist with the Community De- velopment and Housing Division, said that it was his understanding that much of the well water in the development is already contami- nated. "There is raw sewage run- ning out here," he said. "But we're not here to force anybody." Joan James conf'trmed his state- ment about the water quality in parts of West Rehoboth. "I'm not cooking with my water. I'm not drinking my water," she said, adding that her well was built in the 1980s when she bought her house. Others in the audience confn'med that their water was of poor quality, too. Bernice Edwards, housing di- rector at First State Community Action Agency, tried to allay fears that the water line would force people to hook onto the line and place them in a position of finan- cial hardship. "As long as the communities stick together," she said, "you can determine what can and Cannot be done in your community. This is where you live." She added that the cost to the community for the new center's water will be minimal because of grant money already secured and the possibility of securing addi- tional grant funds. "Are we going to be so selfish? We're looking at the future of our kids," asked Ed- wards. William LeCates, director of the Community Development and Housing Division, said putting the water line in was solely to provide service to the community center. However, he said it is possible that the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control may not be willing to is- sue permits for new wells as old ones go bad. He urged the community to take action to approve the water line, however, because there are two other communities also seeking funding from the grants. 'Tm applying for over two mil- lion dollars for Sussex County alone," he said. "We have less than two weeks to put that appli- cation together." If WSNB failed to approve the water line, he explained, it would have to wait another year before being eligible again for funding. The proposal, he told the audi- ence, impacted only six houses in the development who would be in direct line with the water main, and those residents could choose not to hook on. The main line will go from the city down Hebron Road to the proposed site of the center on Bur- ton Avenue. No timeline has yet been estab- lished for the construction of the new community center. Members of WSNB are expected to review a plan proposal at their March meeting. Separate grants and funds are available for individuals who want to hook onto the water line and who meet the income qualifi- cations. Cooper said the city has no plans at this time to create a cen- tral water system and is not far along enough in the planning stage for the West Rehoboth pro- ject to know whether the city will be able to waive impact fees for the West Rehoboth project. West Side New Beginnings to lose funding if boundary changes Westside New Beginnings, if it accepts a proposal to change its geographical boundaries to extend beyond West Rehoboth, could lose significant funding for its at-risk youth programs. The issue of changing boundaries arose at a West Side New Be- ginnings (WSNB) meeting on Thursday, Feb. 13, where members were considering change proposals for the organization's bylaws. Several members of the group suggested expanding the West Re- hoboth geographical boundaries south to Oyster Road and north to near Midway. Presently, the bylaws state members of the organization should re- side on streets in West Rehoboth and Burton Village. West Re- hoboth, one of the eight communities in Sussex County that is part of Gov. Tom Carper's Strong Communities Initiative, receives state and federal resources to help at-risk youth. "Our targeted communities are impoverished communities," said Nancy Panico, community issues policy advisor in the Office of Public Safety. At issue is whether an expanded area for WSNB, which receives the funding for West Rehoboth programs, would still meet criteria for being considered impoverished if other nearby, more affluent, communities were considered part of it. "Ilaat would definitely be a problem," said Panieo. "What we set up to do is target the resources to impoverished communities. Strong Communities was initially started as a way of dealing with chronic community problems such as open air drug markets, aban- doned homes, trash, etc. "It was also started with the premise that we would partner with the communities to give them a hand up and easy access to commu- nity policing services, state and local resources," said Panico. "It is a focusing of resources toward the needs as identified by the com- munity itself. To me, they'd be extending their purpose." Panico said that many of the grant monies available to organiza- tions within the Strong Communities is based on need and popula- tion, as well as helping those youth who are considered "at-risk." An expansion of the WSNB boundaries could mean it would no longer meet some of the criteria for some of the grant funds. Unresolved with the state, however, is the point at which a com- munity has become empowered enough to drop away from the Strong Communities Initiative, leaving room for another needy community to take its place. Some communities, said Panico, have been very successful and are beginning to show signs that they may have limited need for continued help. Policy regarding how and when to release a community from the initiative is being discussed, said Panico. She said the issue of a ma- jor geographical expansion for a community has never before been an issue, so no policy has been developed to determine whether WSNB could remain in the Strong Communities Initiative if it were to change the nature of its composition and its needs. Rehoboth By Trish Vernon Admitting it to be a "very emotional is- sue," Phyllis Mihalis, president of the homeowners association at Star of the Sea Condominium, came before the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners Feb. 14 with a plea backed by owners of 92 of the 100 units that the city not allow removal of the remains of the two shipwrecks in the surf off the beach in front of their condo. Mihalis said she wanted to clear up a few "misconceptions" which have arisen over the past few weeks since John Hughes, di- rector of the state's Division of Soil and Water Conservation, offered to take another look at removing the ribs of the barge Mer- rimac, which went ashore in 1918, and met- al remains of coal carrier Thomas Tracy, driven ashore in 1944 at Brooklyn Avenue. Hughes, along with Mayor Sam Cooper, feel the wrecks are a hazard and that they would be giving a block of beach back to the people, as swimming isn't allowed in that area. But Mihalis said that beach is very crowded with sunbathers in the sum- mer, that the shipwrecks serve to benefit marine life and that it has become a popular vows to fishing beach as no swimming is allowed. Mihalis took great exception to Hughes' "attack on our motivation in erecting the commemorative plaque," on the boardwalk, which explains the history of the wrecks in pictures and text. She called his response to their concerns found in letters to local newspapers "irresponsible and repugnant" - a slap in the fact to the historians, contrac- tors and others whose "tireless efforts" made the plaque a reality. "I think an apol- ogy is in order from Mr. Hughes," she added, as Hughes, also a former Rehoboth Beach mayor, listened stonily from the front row of the commissioners room. Laying out her case, Mihalis cited three primary reasons for not removing the wrecks. First, she maintains, the ships are "historic in nature," and being able to look out at the beach and see where they lay rather than where they used to lay, is quite different. She went on to question if the state could guarantee total removal, "as we're concerned with the safety, as if the beach is reopened and pieces remain, bathers could be injured. Also, the structur- al integrity of our building - we can't say it keep residents apprised on wreck removal proposal would be jeopardized, but it could impose an unwise threat to our property," she con- tinued, demanding that all federal and state impact studies on such a project be open to public review. Taking to task those who may believe the only reason for their opposition is so that they can have their own private beach, Mi- halis said that beach is as loud as any, and that they aren't driven by selfish interests. She encouraged the city and Hughes to redirect their efforts and money into other beach preservation efforts, adding "don't act in haste so we can despair in leisure," asking that her association be kept abreast of any developments in these efforts. Cooper assured Mihalis "we're a long way from putting a shovel into the ground," but termed the wrecks "a clear threat to life and limb. If they can be removed at a rea- sonable cost, it should be done." Mihalis argued that more people are in- jured on jetties, but Cooper and Commis- sioner Richard Sargent cited the hazards the wrecks cause. When asked who actually has the last say on removal of the wrecks, Hughes replied that there is no "'hard answer on the owner- ship of subaqeous land," but as a safety is- sue, he feels the state could be somewhat accountable. "I'm not sure there's money in the budget, but I feel a responsibility to look at it. Once you talk about liability, if an accident occurs and you've taken no ac- tion, you're vulnerable," he said. Commissioner Bitsy Cochran voiced concern that with the route this issue is tak- ing, the removal decision may not actually be left up to he city. Hughes told her he would obtain a legal opinion from the attor- ney general's office, adding "it doesn't mean you are locked into removal, even if the state is 100 percent responsible." But he told them they would need to enhance the barriers keeping people away from the wrecks. He went on to say that they are as yet to have a clear cut method of excavating the wrecks; "but half a cure would be useless," and there's no guarantee they'll find a method that will work. In any case, he said it would be next winter at the earliest before any work could commence. Asked if a Continued on page 13