A working group will review plans for a water taxi on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
The Rehoboth Beach commissioners agreed the working group would include members of the commission and the Lewes Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association, which has been spearheading the project.
While most commissioners voiced support for a water taxi – no one spoke out against it – several commissioners raised concerns about logistical details.
Commissioner Stan Mills said costs and maintaining the dock should be reviewed.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the project requires a comprehensive look at the long-term impact.
“It will be a viable link for Rehoboth to increase our popularity, but we have to know how to manage it,” he said. “It’s an idea that’s ripe, but it needs further information and further development. But we need to pursue it.”
Mayor Sam Cooper said his concern is parking. Cooper said there is no data in the association’s feasibility study for a water taxi about the resulting demand for parking. He said the association’s decision to move forward with a design is “awfully premature.”
“The bigger the success of this project, the more problems it’s going to create. And if we don’t investigate those problems upfront, if we think it’s going to be successful, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed in what we create,” he said.
Cooper said he was not sure how to address the logistical issues, but added, “I think all those questions need to be answered before we commit money to this.”
The proposed taxi would run from Lewes’ Canalfront Park to a dock to be built on the banks of the canal at the Rehoboth Beach Museum. The estimated cost of the dock is $500,000.
The project has been proposed as a public-private partnership, with public land used for the infrastructure, while the operation of the taxi itself would be handled by a private vendor.
Commissioner Lorraine Zellers said in addition to parking and maintainence, liability and location of the dock, particularly the steep bank at the museum, are also issues.
“Is that the right place for it? Are there areas where the bank is lower? I don’t know if that’s been looked at,” she said. “There are some more pieces that we haven’t talked about.”
Looking for a buy-in
The canal improvement association is seeking city support, not only to use the land but also for help in securing grants. Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, a member of the association, said while there were some loose ends, “We (the association) certainly want the city to want to do this project.”
Spokesman Mark Carter said the association was seeking the city’s endorsementt. He said the dock would provide an attraction, a welcoming appearance at the entrance to Rehoboth and recreational opportunities.
Carter said if the city partners up, it would be easier to ask private donors to contribute.
If there is a willingness to partner than we can start to pursue and say, ‘We’ve got $200,000 in matching grants and a donor willing to do $200,000.’ And now all the sudden this project is now a $400,000 project,” Carter said.
“That partnership will help to truly figure out what kind of price tag we are working on,” he said.
Paul Kuhns, president of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society, said he questions whether there is another location for the taxi where the bank is lower.
Kuhns said parking is available in the museum parking lot at Grove Park and on-street parking on Rehoboth Avenue and Canal Street.
Bob Ehemann, grants coordinator with the Division of Parks and Recreation, told the commissioners the city must demonstrate public usefulness and public involvement in order to receive a grant.
Ehemann said the taxi would provide all kinds of possibilities, such as kayaking, bicycle and pedestrian access to Junction and Breakwater Trail and visitation to downtown Lewes and Rehoboth.
However, Ehemann said parking is a problem. Ehemann said with a public facility like this, people’s expectation will be that parking will be available, both for cars and kayaks coming in.
“This is the city’s decision to pursue. We’re happy to help out. From a recreational point of view, I think it has a lot of potential. It’s probably the one last untapped resource that the city has – this canal,” Ehemann said.