Association presents plan for Lewes-Rehoboth water taxi

Project could be operational by late summer 2013
A rendering of what the proposed dock and water taxi at the Rehoboth Beach Museum would look like. Cost estimates of the dock are $849,000, which the Lewes Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association hopes to pay for with grants and donations. SOURCE SUBMITTED
February 10, 2012

All aboard!

That could be the call heard by Rehoboth Beach visitors if the city decides to partner up on a water taxi between Rehoboth and Lewes.

The $849,000 project was pitched by members of the Lewes Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association as a way improve the appearance, accessibility and functionality of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, reduce vehicular traffic and provide a way to link the two cities.

The proposal is for the taxi to go from Lewes’s Canalfront Park down the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and ending at the Rehoboth Beach Museum. The taxi itself would be two 30-foot pontoon boats and the dock at the museum would also have a kayak/canoe launch.

The biggest part of the operation is the dock at the museum. From the water, a floating dock will be the on and off point for passengers, who can then walk up a Boardwalk promenade, which will be built with “switchbacks,” ramps similar to those found at a football stadium, that will allow for better handicapped access. The ramps will lead to the walkway around the canal side of the museum.

Landscape architect Matt Spong, a member of the project team, said the land the dock would go on is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but the association has arranged a 20-year lease with the Corps that allows for improvements to be made to the canal bank.

The association hopes to pay for the project using grants from several sources, including the Department of Transportation’s Community Enhancement Fund, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund, as well as charitable donations and corporate contributions.

Of partnering with Rehoboth, Mark Carter, spokesman for the association said, “By partnering with the city of Rehoboth, the opportunity for sourcing funding becomes greater. Also, the project would create a park-like setting that serves as the western gateway to the city, and there would maintenance considerations that need to be addressed, so a public-private partnership is the logical route to go.”

Carter said Lewes is already on board with supporting the project. The town already has the infrastructure in place to support a water taxi, he said.

Operation of the taxi itself would be handled by a private entity. Carter said the $849,000 is to put the infrastructure in place to support the water taxi.

“The water taxi would be where the opportunity for job creation arises. The opportunity exists for an entrepreneur to or existing water taxi operator to provide this service. Several boat captains have already contacted the LRCIA and discussed this opportunity,” Carter said

At the Feb. 6 commissioners’ meeting, the association laid out a timeline of beginning construction in November, with the taxi becoming operation in the late summer 2013.

Carter said, “Ideally, the goal of the LRCIA is to see this project become a reality in approximately two years. The next steps are to move forward with grant applications, RFPs for final design, permitting, and construction documentation.”

Regarding the tourism side of the project, Scott Thomas of Southern Delaware Tourism said the water taxi would be a way to bolster existing tourism while providing less stress on local roadways.

“This really will be an attraction within an attraction,” he said.

The city commissioners seemed to be in favor of the project, but had questions on some of the details.

Mayor Sam Cooper said he thinks it is a great project, although he had reservations about the kayak launch creating a demand for parking that the city is unable to meet, as people would be parking their cars and bringing their kayaks down to the dock.

Commissioner Mark Hunker said the city should not get too hung up on minor details like the kayak launch, since the project could be built without it, and focus instead on supporting the taxi’s larger goal.

“The key here is, this is a great possibility and enhancement,” he said.

“I think this is an added attraction to the city, a welcoming presence,” Carter said. ‘I think right now is the time to make this a reality.”

The association will hold a public workshop on the water taxi at 1 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, in the city commissioners’ room.