The Rehoboth Beach commissioners narrowly agreed to endorse design work on a dock to be built on the banks of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
Commissioner Bill Sargent cast the tie-breaking vote once it was agreed city funds would not be spent on the design. The Lewes Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association, which proposed the dock project, has said it plans to raise $150,000 for design work, based on a $50,000 state grant and $100,000 in private fundraising. The cost of the dock at the Rehoboth Beach Museum, has been estimated at $850,000, bringing the total cost up to $1 million.
Lewes officials, who will have to refurbish the dock at Canalfront Park as part of the project, endorsed the project last month.
The goal of the association is for the docks to accommodate a water taxi. Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, a member of the association who voted to endorse the design, said the intent is for the dock to be used as for a water taxi, although it will be a public facility. She said while other boats could use the dock to drop people off, the dock will not be large enough for boats to tie up.
At the commissioners’ Aug. 16 meeting, almost all the commissioners had questions about the logistics of the project and whether the dock could be built. The city’s endorsement was needed before the association could pursue state grants.
Commissioners Lorraine Zellers and Stan Mills, who both voted no, said more discussion was needed.
“We haven’t done our homework,” Mills said. “I think it’s premature to endorse this at this time.”
Zellers said there were still unanswered questions about parking, effects of the dock on traffic, maintenance costs and whether that area of the canal bank was the right location for a dock.
Mills said a memorandum of understanding spelling out the duties and responsibilities of the city and the association should be drafted and signed before an endorsement of the project.
“What are we committing ourselves to by signing this endorsement? Does it apply only to the design phase? Or are we giving implicit approval to the entire project?” Zellers said.
Echoing Mills’ request for a memorandum of understanding, Zellers said, “If this is a first date, I want a prenup.”
Sargent was concerned about maintenance costs and assurance the city would not be on the hook for designing or building the dock.
The most vocal champion of the project was Commissioner Mark Hunker, who said the endorsement allows the association to move forward with design; specific logistical questions would be answered once a design was submitted.
He said the commersionners' questions are premature. "You can’t get to those questions until you have a design. And that’s all we’re looking for right now,” he said.
By endorsing the letter and moving forward, Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the city would be ensured a seat at the table as the project evolves.
Less convinced was Mayor Sam Cooper, who voted no. He said the feasibility of the project has never been shown and that there was no statement of purpose for having the dock in the first place. Cooper and Sargent expressed doubts that a water taxi could make money; Cooper also said a project like the dock screams for a memorandum of understanding.
Lewes Councilman Ted Becker, who pitched Rehoboth on an endorsement Aug. 5 on behalf of the association, said the association must get its grant request in by early October to be in line for state funds. Hunker said by not endorsing the project now the commissioners would have to wait until next year’s grant cycle and would still not have answers to their questions because no design work will have been done.
Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism, said the association was not trying to force feed a design on the city, but was simply looking for an endorsement of the concept of a dock.
The commissioners agreed to put in writing that no city money would be spent on the design and that the association would address the commissioners’ questions on the dock’s feasibility as part of the design. The letter also says the endorsement is not a tacit approval of the entire project or of a water taxi, but merely a go-ahead to proceed with design of the dock.