Newly elected Sen. Ernie Lopez told Dewey Beach stakeholders he would help them find funds for infrastructure projects in town, but he said residents must be realistic about the financial strains on the state.
Lopez was elected to serve the new District 6 in the Nov. 6 election. The district includes Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Lewes and Milton. “I’m just really proud and humbled to be the first state Senator in the 6th District,” Lopez said.
Civic group Friends of Dewey hosted Lopez, R-Lewes, Jan. 5 at the Dewey Beach Lions Clubhouse. More than 30 people including town commissioners, officials, homeowners and business owners were in attendance to express their concerns to the new senator.
Lopez said one of the best parts about the new district is the municipalities within it. “I love the fact that I have this tremendous town,” he said. “I love Dewey Beach.”
Lopez is a native of Newark, but he said his wife, Janis Lopez, grew up in the Seabreeze community.
Lopez discussed his committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Jan. 8. Professionally, Lopez works with children and families as a 4-H coordinator for University of Delaware; he said he was pleased to be assigned to the Education, Children, Youth and Families, and Heath and Social Services committees.
Lopez said his role on the Sunset Committee would be to create more efficiency in state government by getting rid of outdated laws and agencies. “I’m very proud to be part of a committee that says, ‘Why are we still doing this?’” he said.
Other committee assignments, Lopez said, will help him better serve his district specifically. Of his assignment to the transportation committee, Lopez said, “In this district, our Main Street is Route 1.”
Resident Jenny Taylor said the state must improve pedestrian safety on Route 1. She noted the recent pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on Route 1, and the frequency with which people cross the road on foot.
Rob Marshall, owner of the Atlantic Oceanside Motel, said better statewide transportation is needed for foreign students aiming to work in Dewey Beach. “Right now, they rely on private transportation,” he said. Marshall said the town loses many student workers to New Jersey and Ocean City, Md. “These kids are important to our economy,” he said.
Lopez said he wants to ensure transportation is available to students, workers and senior citizens. Lopez said he knocked on thousands of doors while he was campaigning for the Senate seat. “I was amazed by how many seniors live alone in these homes,” he said.
Lopez also said his role on the Natural Resources Committee will be important for coastal Delaware. “I’m looking forward to having a very strong voice on that committee,” he said.
Many of the questions from the audience focused on environmental issues. Dewey Beach homeowner Graham Smith asked Lopez what could be done about the drainage issues in town. “When the tides come up, there’s nowhere for the water from Rehoboth Bay to go,” he said.
Commissioner Anna Legates said Delaware earmarked funds to create jobs in infrastructure, and some of the money should be channeled to address drainage issues in Dewey Beach. “I’d like to see a focus group for this part of the county,” Legates said.
Friends of Dewey Secretary Mark Allen said the town relies heavily on grant money for large projects. “Do we have an opportunity to leverage grant dollars?” he asked. “If those grant dollars aren’t there, the planning process really needs to start now.”
Former Mayor Pat Wright asked if the town could seek Lopez’s help when searching for grant money to fund the police department.
“Absolutely,” Lopez said. “Dewey deserves its fair share.”
Lopez said he would help the town apply for grants, but it would be difficult to get state funding for any large infrastructure projects. “It is going to be another difficult year,” he said. “We have unlimited demand on very limited resources.
“We need to manage our expectations,” he said. “Please keep that line of communication with me open whether you like what I have to tell you or not.”
Another member of the audience asked if part of the funds Delaware received for Superstorm Sandy damages could be used to fix drainage problems on Read Street.
“The money was just made available yesterday,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if it can go right to Read Street…but I’m going to find out.”